Trend Watch www.shrm.org/trends
Leadership development may be the next human capital system ripe for
disruption. That’s largely because work
is evolving to become less siloed and
hierarchical as organizations shift their
focus from processes to culture.
Yet only 1 in 6 HR professionals say
their current leadership development activities are very effective, according to
Leadership Development: A Path to Greater
Effectiveness, a 2016 research report from
the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). In addition, such programs
appear to have a greater impact on individual performance than on that of the organization, the report revealed. These results
are disappointing given the time and
money many companies devote to grooming new leaders.
Organizational barriers include a
lack of resources and inadequate support from management. But something
even more fundamental may be at play.
Historically, most training programs
have taught general skills, such as how
to influence people and devise strategies,
that are far removed from an organization’s distinct culture. While this type
of preparation is often well-received
and can even improve behavior for a
short time, it has little long-term impact
because it’s not tailored to the needs of
the organization. Moreover, the substantial cost of these programs typically
requires companies to invest selectively,
focusing only on a small subset of “
To be effective, leadership development models and methods will likely
need to change. Luckily, more than half
of the HR professionals in SHRM’s survey said their organizations are in the
process of developing or upgrading their
learning and development initiatives.
The Center for Creative Leadership,
a research and education company, iden-
tified four trends for future leadership
Vertical development. The traditional focus, known as horizontal development, is on reinforcing the fundamental skills and competencies needed
to perform well at one’s current level.
While that will still be important, the
uncertainty of the emerging world of
work will require a stronger emphasis on
building employees’ leadership capacity
in more-complex roles.
Individual ownership. Established
models rely on organizational structures, including human resources, to
sponsor and coordinate leadership development initiatives. But the strongest benefits are realized when workers are able
to determine their own training agenda.
Collective leadership. Less hierarchy
and more fluidity in the workplace will
require leadership skills to be more widely
distributed across the workforce.
Innovation. Greater agility and
more experimentation are needed
to meet the demands of the new
To guide additional program refinements, keep in mind the leadership training methods that HR professionals in
the SHRM survey expect to be the most
important in the next two to three years:
• Leader-to-leader development.
• On-the-job/in-role learning.
• Social media.
Of course, simply piling on more
activities won’t help if you don’t first
understand your organization’s unique
needs. Start from the ground up and
focus on how to capitalize on the learn-
ing opportunities that occur natu-
rally within your organization, such as
through stretch assignments. The tim-
ing couldn’t be better for
making a big change.
Shonna Waters is vice
president of research at
By Shonna Waters
Leadership development programs need a reboot to reflect today’s work world.