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Developing Leaders: Today’s Methods vs. Tomorrow’s Problems

The greatest challenge ahead is not a leadership challenge. It’s a development challenge, argues CCL’s Nick Petrie.

Nick Petrie took a yearlong sabbatical at Harvard University with the goal of answering one question — what will the future of leadership development look like? He looked across fields (education, business, law, government, psychology), reviewed leadership development literature and interviewed 30 experts in the field.

What he found was a profound gap between today’s methods of developing leaders and the skills leaders need to deal with more a complex, volatile and unpredictable reality.

The methods organizations use to develop leaders have not changed (much) in decades. The majority of managers are developed from on-the-job experiences, training and coaching/mentoring.

“While these are all still important, leaders are no longer developing fast enough or in the right ways to match the new environment,” says Petrie.

Petrie identified four trends shaping leader development — trends that top management as well as training and development professionals must grapple with as they figure out ways to prepare for the future:

Vertical development will matter more. There are two different types of development: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal development focuses on new skills, abilities and behaviors. It is technical learning and competency-based. Horizontal development is most useful when a problem is clearly defined and we have known techniques for solving it. Vertical development, in contrast, refers to the mental and emotional “stages” that people progress through. At each higher level, adults “make sense” of the world in more complex and inclusive ways.

The methods for horizontal and vertical development are very different. Horizontal development can be “transmitted” (from an expert), but vertical development must be earned (for oneself). Horizontal development cannot be relied on as the sole, or even primary, means for developing leaders.

People must own their development. The current model encourages people to believe that someone else is responsible for their development — human resources, their manager or trainers. But people develop fastest when they feel responsible for their own progress.

“We need to help people out of the passenger seat and into the driver’s seat of their own development,” says Petrie.

Individual leaders are less important. Leadership development has come to a point of being too individually focused and elitist. There is a transition occurring from the old paradigm in which leadership resided in a person or role, to a new one in which leadership is a collective process that is spread throughout networks of people. Leadership development should focus more on what is needed in the system and how we can produce it.

The question will change from, “Who are the leaders?” to “What conditions do we need for leadership to flourish in the network? How do we spread leadership capacity throughout the organization and democratize leadership?”

We need a new era of innovation. There are no simple, existing models or programs, which will be sufficient to develop the levels of collective leadership required to meet an increasingly complex future. Instead, an era of rapid innovation will be needed in which organizations experiment with new approaches that combine diverse ideas in new ways and share these with others. Technology and the Web will both provide the infrastructure and drive the change. Organizations that embrace the changes will do better than those that resist it.

“The future of leadership development is evolving, with many paths and little clarity,” Petrie acknowledges. “The answers will be discovered along the way on the messy path of innovation.”

Find out more about Future Trends in Leadership Development through an on-demand CCL Webinar with Nick Petrie, and be sure to check out the In-House Creative Services Industry Report for insights on developing in-house creative teams.


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Category: InSights

About Center for Creative Leadership: The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) offers an exclusive focus on leadership education and research and unparalleled expertise in solving the leadership challenges of individuals and organizations everywhere. Read more at CCL's official blog, View author profile.

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