Developing the Next Generation of Leaders: Trends and Truths About the Future of Leadership Development

September 1, 2016

Ian Ziskin, President, EXec EXcel Group LLC

Ian Ziskin is president of EXec EXcel Group LLC, a human capital coaching and consulting firm he founded in 2010 following a highly successful 28-year career as a corporate business executive. Ian serves on the board of directors of Axion Health (Denver, Colo.) and Humantelligence (Miami, Fla.). He is on the advisory board of RiseSmart (San Jose, Calif.) and is an executive in residence with the Center for Effective Organizations (CEO) at USC's Marshall School of Business (Los Angeles) and Executive Networks, Inc. (San Francisco).

The ancient Roman dramatist, philosopher and politician Seneca said, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." His point was that although luck is terrific, it typically has very little to do with success, especially that which is sustained over time. Instead, success is more often associated with great preparation and the ability to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Leadership development is all about living at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. It is our job to ensure leaders are well-prepared and to find or create the right opportunities that will further reinforce their development and readiness for even bigger or more challenging roles.

As leaders, we must develop other leaders to be ready and relevant for what organizations will confront over the next five to 10 years and beyond. This responsibility will be significantly shaped by the following 10 trends and truths about the future of leadership development.

1. The "Chief Organizational Capability Officer" Emerges

Although the chief organizational capability officer (COCO) may or may not become a real job title, the concept is indicative of the direction that many leadership roles will be heading. Increasingly, operating and HR leaders alike will be responsible for integrating and driving agility, business context and environment, change, culture, innovation, leadership, networked organizations and communities, talent, and/or transformation. The power of leadership will be derived from connecting the dots and turbo-charging the in-between points, not by mastering the hierarchy or formal organization. Leadership development will focus on these intersections as leaders become chief organizational capability officers.

2. Outside In Is More Important than Inside Out

External environmental context and understanding will likely trump deep mastery of internal organizational issues as the leadership currency of choice. It will simply not be enough to know the business and how to get things done in a particular company. Rather, breadth of perspective about what is happening around and outside organizational walls, the ability to see around corners, and the willingness to appreciate and learn from others will become highly valued. Leadership development must address the outside in perspective.

3. Hero Leadership Gives Way to Collective Leadership

Highly charismatic and visible individual leaders can symbolize an organization's brand and culture—in positive or negative ways. Over-reliance on singular iconic leaders can make leadership succession difficult at best and undermine the employment value proposition because employees have every right to expect to work for multiple leaders who embody the values and behaviors espoused by their companies. Therefore, companies must increasingly invest in leadership not only as an individual capability but as a collective organizational capability as well, whereby leaders are taught, developed and held accountable for the appropriate leadership attributes and behaviors. Leadership development will emphasize collective leadership mindset and skillset rather individual heroics.

4. Multi-Disciplinary and Cross-Functional Solutions Are the Norm

Most challenges that organizations will face in the future are large, complex, multi-disciplinary and cross-functional in nature. Leaders must therefore learn to orchestrate highly collaborative and broad-based approaches to driving solutions. They will be called upon to reach out well beyond the traditional boundaries of their own organizations and functional disciplines to deliver an integrated set of solutions and to engineer answers to complex organizational issues. CEOs and other senior leaders don't care where these integrated solutions come from or who leads them. Leadership development must focus on integrated, multi-disciplinary, cross-functional perspectives and solutions.

5. Collaboration Across Boundaries Has a Multiplier Effect

Most organizations tend to prefer developing leaders by focusing on internal, company-specific issues and challenges, because they believe their company culture and business issues are so unique and special. In reality, although all companies are unique, they also share many common issues, problems, solutions and leadership learning opportunities. 

Cross-company leadership development programs that help leaders better appreciate broader strategic context and business solutions will be essential. Development opportunities that allow companies to move leaders from one company to another for short-term assignments that would not otherwise be available in the leader's own company will become much more prevalent. Leadership development will feature experiences outside the arbitrary boundaries of specific companies, industries and roles that will have a multiplier effect on leadership capabilities.

6. Coaching Builds Muscle Memory

Leadership coaching has become an increasingly popular and well-accepted tool for developing leaders and has evolved from "fixing the broken leader" to investing in the development of highly regarded and successful leaders, by building on their strengths and closing development gaps. Helping leaders reach for broader and more complex leadership roles will often require preparation for unfamiliar and uncomfortable responsibilities. This process necessitates understanding and then practicing to handle scenarios and situations that leaders are likely to face on the job—much like an athlete or musician would practice to prepare for a game or performance.

Preparing leaders to address key decisions and situations they might face, before they actually have to face them, helps them develop the "leadership muscle memory" they will need under real life conditions. Leadership development will include a growing reliance on coaching to prepare leaders for situations before they encounter them, rather than only learning from experiences and fixing mistakes after they occur.

7. Mass Customization Capitalizes on Diverse Needs and Interests

Leadership development used to be about putting in place large-scale organizationwide practices and programs that covered as many people as possible so as to maintain both the perception and reality of fairness and inclusiveness. Although fairness and inclusiveness are certainly important and legitimate goals, they are not necessarily achieved by treating all leaders the same. The most common leadership development trends will be higher transparency of feedback, increased segmentation of pivotal roles and people, and greater frequency of talent reviews and action plan follow-up.

Ownership for successful leadership and talent development efforts must rest with line leaders and be supported by HR leaders. But, these roles will have to go well beyond making sure meetings happen and that forms are filled out and submitted on time. Leaders must actually know the talent and will be called upon to selectively differentiate leadership development experiences based on each leader's unique capabilities and role. Leadership development must allow for mass customization of solutions to capitalize on the diverse needs and interests of leaders.

8. Purpose Complements Performance

Historically, leaders have wanted to work for high-performing, winning organizations, and although that aspiration is still fashionable, it is no longer sufficient. It is becoming even more attractive to work for organizations that strike a healthy balance between performance and purpose. Increasingly, many people—especially Millennials—want to affiliate with institutions that value the importance of economic and social contributions.

People want to be where the organization's values and purpose align with and reinforce their own. Leadership development is therefore quickly evolving to include more of a "whole person" construct that promotes the importance of becoming a healthy, balanced, well-rounded, purpose-driven leader. Leadership development will become as much about creating and fulfilling purpose as it has been about planning for and driving performance.

9. Bite-Sized/On-Demand Solutions Reflect Changing Workforce Expectations

The workforce is becoming more mobile, virtual and globally distributed. Work will increasingly be done when, where and how the workforce prefers. The traditional employment model is steadily giving way to more bite-sized, freelanced, project-based and shorter-term gigs. Leadership development practices must reflect this revolution. Developmental assignments and leadership development programs need to accommodate for more agile, quick-turnaround, quick-hit, on-demand and technology-enabled design and delivery models.

Six week in-residence programs at prestigious universities are not going away completely or anytime soon, but they are also not the prevalent model for the future. Leadership development must be more virtual and in the moment, and delivered in smaller, more digestible bites to better reflect changing workforce expectations and technological realities.

10. Ready Now Gives Way to Ready Able

Leadership development experts used to say, "Past track record predicts future success." In the future, we will likely say, "Past track record is only a valid predictor of future success if the past looks anything like the future." The connection between past and future conditions is tenuous at best. At worst, we could make determinations about leadership development, readiness and succession based on all the wrong factors and criteria because the future may look nothing like the past. The conditions, challenges and pace of change may be completely different. 

So, all our emphasis on developing ready now leaders must give way to developing ready able leaders. We no longer really know if leaders are ready now. At best, we can prepare them to be ready able—to have the situational awareness, flexibility, savvy and leadership capabilities required to quickly understand and adapt to changing conditions. Leadership development in the future will be about identifying and developing potential, which, in turn, translates into being ready and able to handle whatever the future throws at us.



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