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The Future of Leadership Development

 Predictions about the future of business are either lucky or wrong. The value in looking ahead is not to demonstrate prescience but to bring a focus to the trends that are emerging today, which may have escaped our notice. Spotting a future trend allows us to respond more effectively to the present while anticipating the road ahead.
When it comes to leadership development, there is one prediction that can be made with confidence. The investment in developing leaders will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. As a result, the pressure on HR professionals to find more effective ways to accelerate leadership growth will be relentless. To be fair, the HR community does not have a great track record in this with many companies reporting poor returns on leadership development efforts. Clearly, the approaches of the past are unlikely to carry us forward in the future. This is a time for HR to take stock, to rethink leadership and realign development activity with the emerging workplace of the future.
Two trends in particular stand out and are likely to shape the future of leadership development: the demographics of our leaders, and how we define leadership itself.
The Rise of Millennials[YS1] 
The demographics of leaders in the workforce are rapidly changing. The Baby Boomer generation has carried the burden of leadership for the last three decades but this era is coming to an end with large numbers of this generation retiring each day. At the same time the steady rise of Millennials has seen this group grow to over 34 percent of the workforce with 15 percent already in leadership positions[RM2] .  [YS3] 
The changing of the leadership guard has brought new expectations around work and leadership development. Millennials are looking for more than a job, they want opportunities to develop and progress. They have a desire for work that they consider important and worthwhile. Whilst previous generations of leaders have waited to be tapped on the shoulder to attend the company leadership program, Millennial leaders are more likely to seek out their own development and will prefer development that is short, relevant and impactful. The idea of sitting in a classroom for hours on end has limited appeal.
Expectations amongst Millennials run high with 53 percent saying that they expect to have the most senior role in their area of work. As digital natives, they also have high expectations for access to knowledge and learning and are adept at leveraging technology to drive their own development.
Leaders that wish to drive their own development are well served these days. There is now an abundance of bite-sized, high impact leadership development content online. With content freely available and more leaders directing their own learning, traditional HR departments have a choice about how to respond. The focus must move from creating leadership development content to becoming curators of content and helping leaders connect to the learning that will be most impactful for them. Access to content is not enough to create a pipeline of ready now leaders however. The challenge in the future will be to help leaders connect their development activity with the day-to-day reality of their roles and to create and sustain new leadership behaviours. The shift for HR and L&D professionals will be from developing leaders to helping leaders to connect development to performance.
The model for leadership development has now turned on its head. Traditionally, the development of leaders has been driven from the top or from the corporate HR department. In the future, the leader (the learner) is more likely to be at the centre of the model and will drive their own development to support their short and long term career ambitions. Leaders will become discerning consumers of leadership development rather than victims of HR driven programs.
What does that mean for HR and the role they play in leadership development? HR professionals will focus less on creating development programs and will shift to designing an environment to support leaders develop and learn. They will become curators rather than creators of content. They will manage the shift from text and picture based learning to videos, audios, animations and games. They will facilitate insight and peer learning rather than delivery of training. They will measure business outcomes and behaviour change rather than catering and accommodation. The primary goal of the future leadership development professional will be to develop leaders’ ability to develop themselves.
This will be a tough transition for L&D professionals but the rewards will be significant. People who can build a learning environment to support leaders will be an asset for any organisation in the future.
New Models of Leadership
The Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle once said, “The history of the world is but the biography of Great Men”.  Leaving aside the slight undertone of a gender bias, this “Great Man” theory of leadership has been the dominant model of leadership for some time and has been reinforced through the many biographies of business leaders from Jack Welsh to Lee Iacocca. This idea promotes leadership as an individual pursuit and that leadership development is achieved by developing unique skills in select individuals. In other words, it’s all about the leader. [YS4] 
As companies invest more time and effort into leadership development it is inevitable that  new models of leadership will emerge. The future is likely to see a diversity of thinking as new models of leadership come to the fore and change how we think about leadership development. [YS5] 
One example of an emerging leadership model is Social Leadership[YS6] [RM7] —which has defined leadership as a social process rather than the results of one individual’s behaviours. Mass action events such as the Occupy Wall Street protests and the uprisings that collectively represented the Arab Spring have been presented as examples of collective leadership where leadership emerged from the group acting collaboratively and with a common purpose.
In addition, organisations like Zappos (online shoes retailer) and Buurtzorg (Dutch healthcare) are challenging traditional ideas about organisational structures by creating team based management and collective decision-making. Leadership within these types of structures must be collective and embedded in social processes.
What if leadership, at its best, was a cultural and team based effort? How then should we develop leadership in our organisations?  Development would focus building trust and interpersonal skills like conflict resolution and group decision making. Leadership development would be a collective endeavour and team development would focus on developing team processes and creating shared goals, visions and aspirations.
As business structures and operating models diversify, new models of leadership will emerge with new approaches and implications for how we grow and develop leaders. Leadership development will need to align with the needs and culture of the organisation and context becomes all too important. With this increasing diversity, the design of leadership development will require an answer to, “what kind of leader do we need here?”
The Role of the Learning and Development Professional
Regardless of the specific direction that leadership development takes in the years ahead, the future will demand a shift in the approaches adopted by L&D and the skill set required of the Leadership Development Specialist. The leadership development professional of the future will need to bring energy and excitement to the development of leaders; they will be skilful in using technology to provide access to high impact content to leaders and will act as a dynamic coach and facilitator to help individuals and teams to rapidly turn development into performance. They will be agile in their thinking and open to new ideas about models of leadership and how best to develop other new approaches to development. This will not be a role that provides status and security but excitement and opportunities for growth. It will attract the influencers and collaborators and people who have a passion for learning and leadership.
There is so much in the future that is unforeseeable. In leadership development, however, the future is already here and HR professionals are left with a choice on how to respond to what is emerging. Regardless of how the future unfolds the opportunity exists to ride the waves of change and define “the what” and “the how” of leadership development in the future.
Michael Rafferty is General Manager for DDI Australia

 [YS1]Millennials or the Millennial
 [RM2]These are from Brandon Hall Group – State of Leadership Development 2015
 [YS3]Where is this from? I thought it was GLF but its not….
 [YS4]Not sure about using leadership twice here?
 [YS5]Might be doubling up with this sentence J
 [YS6]Might have to reference this? Is this right?
 [RM7]Future Trends in Leadership – Centre for Creative Leadership

Posted: 09 Feb, 2016,
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