The Advancing Leadership Blog

Leadership Development: Past, Present and Future

by Catherine Osler, CEO of TEC Canada

Just as the business community of this country has evolved over time, leadership development and leadership thinking has evolved over the decades. Although leadership as a concept has been with us since the emergence of civilization, scholars have only been studying it seriously for a little over a hundred years. Certainly there is no shortage of thinking on the subject these days – there are over 60,000 “Leadership” titles on Amazon. A global survey on human capital trends carried out by firm Bersin by Deloitte indicated that 86% of business and HR leaders cited Leadership as the number one issue facing organizations today. Unfortunately, only 13% of the respondents thought companies were doing a good job at it. In a related statistic, 79% believe they have a retention and engagement problem.  In my business lifetime I have seen an interesting paradigm shift in the demands placed on leaders. Let’s take a minute and think a bit about that evolution and where leadership development may be moving in the future.

The increased complexity, speed and globalisation of the workplace have resulted in a demand for a different type of leader. Organizations are shifting away from the former very limited and narrow focus on developing the next C-Suite executive who commands and controls a one-way hierarchy. Today, organizations are moving to develop leaders who are more collaborative, adaptable, strategic and self-aware at all levels.  Leadership development should be more focused on the collective.  It should be a relationship-based process that focuses not only on the competencies of the leader but on those of networks of people. Traditionally, organizations have focused on horizontal development building (building competencies) however we are now beginning to recognize the need for vertical development. Vertical development is growth in maturity of perspective.  In the development of leaders it is important to provide opportunities for horizontal development and vertical development. As Jeff Barnes, head of Global Leadership for GE (a role model organization for thought leadership development) put it “a major part of our job is helping people develop how they think. How they get to an answer matters more than ever.” And that starts at the top.

TEC Canada has always provided leadership development through expert speakers to develop leadership competencies as well as peer mentorship and individual coaching. Together they provide a catalyst for self-exploration, personal challenge and a maturing perspective as well as the accountability that is key to driving sustained success.

So, what does the future of leadership development hold? Organizations are facing the challenge of developing several generations of leaders, from Gen-Xers to Millennials, each of which has a different approach toward corporate culture and where leadership resides in the organization.  In my view the question for leaders is going to be how to consciously facilitate the nurturing of leadership qualities across generations as well as functional levels. More and more we are seeing employees who are increasingly sophisticated in the principles of leadership thinking and who are determined to develop these qualities in themselves. It has been shown that people develop fastest when they feel responsible for their own progress, and leadership is no exception. The importance of leaders focusing on developing a “learning organization” cannot be overstated according to Ray Stata of Analog Devices. “The rate at which organizations learn may become the only sustainable source of competitive advantage.”

In other words, CEOs of the not-so-distant future will have to empower their people to develop or risk being left behind. What do you think? Is your organization keeping pace with the innovations in leadership development?

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