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The 6 Truths of Modern Leadership Development

The 6 Truths of Modern Leadership Development

The business context is changing rapidly, and leadership development needs to change right along with it. If not, it risks becoming ineffective at preparing leaders for today’s digital economy. According to recent Fortune survey, only 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs believe their companies are building effective global leaders, while just 10% think that their leadership development initiatives have clear business impact. A recent Skillsoft / survey on the state of leadership development revealed that only 21% of respondents agreed with the statement that employees in their organizations believe managers effectively lead them.

One way to address this disconnect is to directly link leadership development with the new strategic imperatives of the digital economy. To prepare leaders for the future, we must start by teaching new leadership behaviors and new competencies like resilience, leading change, cognitive flexibility, agility and skills for leading virtually. It is imperative that aspiring leaders learn to adapt to new and different situations and adjust their leadership behaviors accordingly.

As HR and L&D leaders look for ways to modernize their leadership development programs for the digital economy, it is essential to recognize that there are six factors which distinguish leadership development today from that of the past.

#1 Leadership development is democratizing

Effectively reaching across and deeply into the layers of the organization is key to unlocking success in leadership development efforts. A recent study by McKinsey surfaced that organizations which implement a broad leadership development strategy are six to seven times more likely to derive success from their leadership development programs than those who do not.  Skillsoft’s research supports this finding.  Successful programs are designed with the context of a broad, organization-wide leadership development strategy in mind. The same is true for companies whose leadership strategy and model reach all levels of the organization.

What do we mean by democratizing leadership development?  As organizations move from siloed structures to flatter structures, cross-functional teams become the norm. More employees are assuming leadership responsibilities without a formal leader designation or any training. The good news is that many organizations realize the need to expand their leadership development more broadly and deeply. The Skillsoft / leadership survey revealed that 61% of respondents believe that leadership development is likely to become more democratized in their organizations over the next three years. Fortunately, eLearning technology enables more cost-effective, faster, more flexible, large-scale learning on digital platforms that can facilitate focused leadership development, prompting new and potential leaders to work on specific, targeted behaviors.

#2 The modern leader’s critical task: create and empower the team context

This means creating a context of commitment and collaboration, where there exists a comfort to contribute innovative ideas, accelerated decision-making, shared purpose, experimentation, and an atmosphere of empowerment and trust.

#3 The new C&C is not like the old

The focus of leadership today must be squarely based on the model of “connect and collaborate” rather than “command and control.”  Today’s leaders don’t dictate; they guide and influence. They serve as a conduit for diverse ideas and initiatives, and champion knowledge-sharing and collaboration. They coach rather than micromanage.

In his book Music as Alchemy: Journeys with Great Conductors and their Orchestras, Tom Service writes, “The essential work of a conductor has never really been about the exercise of authority. Conducting is really about the creation of a culture of responsibility, of respect, of musical and social awareness, and of listening. Connecting is a metaphor, not for absolute power but for shared experience, for collaboration, for listening.”

#4 There’s no I in team

Yesterday’s leaders were measured based on individual success, hence the old term “hero leader.”  Leaders’ performance was defined by what they did as individuals and what they squeezed out of their followers.  Today’s leaders are evaluated based on their performance as leaders of “hero teams.” In the role of a team coach or squadron commander, the leader’s success is evaluated based on what the team, working together as a unit, achieves. Leaders today increasingly manage agile teams, squads and tribes that innovate, so leadership in the current context is less about directing reports and more about fostering and ensuring the ability of mission-driven team members to execute on strategy and innovation.

#5 It’s about mind-sets, not skill sets

Historically, leadership development programs have been primarily concerned with “skill-building,” and not necessarily with dynamic “mind-set-building.” However, leadership is a construct that exists between people in complex and fluid relationships.  Leadership development that takes interpersonal connections into account facilitates the creation of leadership mind-sets.  These are deeper, more nuanced mind-sets that current and future leaders can leverage to better respond to the complexities of the ever-changing conditions in the business environment.

A leadership development program that builds mind-sets around agility, customer-centricity, creativity, accountability, resiliency, and other forward-thinking qualities will propel leaders and their teams forward in lasting ways. Leaders who possess better capabilities for collaborative leadership in the uncertain, ambiguous, and changing conditions they face today will be more successful in the long run. Because leadership actions are inherently relational, establishing such mind-sets naturally requires organizations to contextualize and teach leadership development in a “relational” manner.

#6 The modern leader’s core competency: innovation

In the industrial era, the leader’s core competency was centered upon execution. In the digital age, the core competency is innovation. The modern business context is fast-paced, nonlinear, virtual, technology-enabled, and ever-changing. The same Fortune survey also revealed that 72% of CEOs cited the rapid pace of technological innovation as their greatest challenge.  Customers’ expectations continue to rise, and this means that companies face significant pressures to release new products and services at an accelerated pace, demanding continuous innovation.

Leaders are the focal point for driving this innovation. They must spot trends related to emerging technologies, identify customer-driven opportunities, and then ideate, using design thinking approaches to transform the business and release successful new products and services.  The Skillsoft / leadership survey highlighted that over 60% of respondents cite leadership that results in greater innovation as a competency of growing importance for their organization.

As the pace of change increases in our digital economy, so too does the price of lagging leadership development.  No organization can afford to fail in preparing their leaders for the significant challenges they face today.

Skillsoft’s Leadership Development Program is designed to address all six of these factors. Studies show that successful leadership development programs are five times more likely to require participants to apply learning in real-world settings and to practice these new behaviors in their jobs. Our technology-enabled solution offers fast-paced digital learning, easily embedded into the day-to-day workflows of managers and leaders, facilitating these essential skills in behavioral competencies and practices. The skills they need to lead their businesses into the future.

To view an infographic of The 6 Truths of Modern Leadership Development click here

To review the results of the Skillsoft – leadership survey click here

Experience Skillsoft’s Leadership Development Program by starting a 14-day trial of Percipio, Skillsoft’s learning experience platform, here.


Heide Abelli is the SVP of Content Product Management at Skillsoft.

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