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The Future of Leadership Development

The Brandon Hall Group recently released their industry perspective on the state of leadership development around the globe.[1] Many recent studies have echoed the same reality identified by the Brandon Hall report: a clear need for increased focus on leadership development. The title of their report underlines the urgency of the situation by stating, “The Time to Act is Now.” In fact, evidence suggests the time to act was yesterday, if not sooner.

The truth is, most organizations have been busy for years pouring resources into attracting elusive talent; giving little attention to developing that hard-to-source talent once on board. The growing leadership gap faced by many organizations is further complicated by the different perspectives and preferences of those most likely become the leaders of the future. The expectations of today’s high-performers who aspire to leadership roles are quite different from those of previous generations of leaders.

Leadership Development Challenges

According to Brandon Hall researchers, here are the most compelling challenges organizations face in 2016 in their leadership development efforts.

Good help is (still) hard to find

The struggle to source and attract top-quality talent continues to confront most organizations.

  • 55% of respondents struggle with a talent shortage.
  • 64% said their greatest talent challenge is attracting talent.[2]

Internal talent development is vital

Although developing internal talent was identified as a clear and continuing priority, 36% of organizations surveyed said their leadership development practices are below average or poor.[3]

  • Half of these organizations said their leaders are not skilled enough to effectively lead their organizations today.
  • 71% said their leaders are not ready to lead their organizations into the future.
  • Only 25% of organizations said they had a ready and willing successor identified for one out of 10 critical leader positions.

The face of the workplace has already changed

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Millennials already form 34% of the U.S. workforce and that number will increase to 46 % by 2020.

  • 15% of Millennials are already in management roles
  • 53% of aspire to become the leader or most senior executive within their current, or another, organization.
  • Millennials expect a different approach to leadership development.

Bridging the Leadership Gap

It’s easy to say that organizations must prioritize internal leadership development. Making it happen is much harder. Especially when the leadership development process itself must evolve to suit the changing realities of today’s work environment, as well as the different needs and expectations of a new demographic. The State of Leadership Development report cited above identifies four critical calls to action for successful leadership development going forward.

Understand the new leadership workforce demographics

Many organizations are still operating with policies and practices that were developed by and for Boomers, many of whom are already retiring. Generation X workers are a much smaller contingent and, by 2020, Millennials will be almost half of the workforce.  It’s time to dig in and get to know what makes these new workers tick.

Accelerate the development of Millennial leaders

The leadership gap is already evident, but it will soon be a yawning chasm. That’s why the report pulls no punches, stating: “Fast-tracking Millennial leader development is the burning necessity for organizations everywhere…” This will involve new approaches to leadership development, new tools and new technologies.

Institutionalize ‘Just for Me’ leader learning

One of the biggest differences in the way leaders will be developed in future is around the modes and methods of learning. Today’s learners expect a customized, always accessible learning environment. Traditional classroom learning will not be the pillar of leadership development that it has been in the past. Leadership development will have to be social, mobile, media-rich, hands-on and always-on to create the kind of “just for me” experience today’s aspiring leaders respond to.

Use predictive leadership analytics

Start using the capacity of business information systems to help develop “what-if” scenarios around future leadership requirements. Analyze past data and identify trends that can be used in projecting leadership attrition. Better yet, look for metrics that might serve as signals or red flags to help anticipate turnover among current leaders—and then plan your leadership development accordingly. While most organizations (89% in this report) agree that predictive analytics are important or very important for anticipating leadership requirements, only 7% could claim full predictive capability.

The need for a renewed focus on leadership development is well documented. Brandon Hall’s State of Leadership Development report provides additional evidence of that need, offers useful insight into existing and emerging leadership development challenges, and proposes a detailed framework for rising to those challenges.


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Photo credit: Photo credit: Wesley Fryer via,  CC BY-SA 2.0

[1] The Brandon Hall Group. The State of Leadership Development: The Time to Act is Now

[2] 2015 Brandon Hall: Group Talent Gaps and Hiring Study, cited in The State of Leadership Development

[3] 2015 Brandon Hall: State of Leadership Development Study, cited in The State of Leadership Development

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