Leadership Development: Going Extinct or Merely Transforming?

Leadership Coaching

Over the past few months, I have had the pleasure of attending a few conferences, symposiums and small gatherings comprised of different groups that represent various functions in the training and development worlds.

At these functions, I was surprised to see one common theme carried through like a red thread in the form of a couple questions.

The questions are similar to these:

  • In today’s VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity,) is the need for Leadership Development professionals diminishing?
  • As the expectation that business leaders own more of their development and with online/social media-delivered learning becoming more the norm, will training professionals become obsolete?

While the group’s initial reaction to these questions were defensive in nature, once we got past fearing for our jobs, the conversation got interesting.

New and deeper questions emerged:

  • If, as we posited, our expertise were  to be in less demand, what role would we play?
  • As boards are expecting business leaders to take more responsibility to drive bottom-line results with fewer dead bodies left in their wake, at what point do they become self-aware enough where we are no longer needed in the same way?
  • Do we have to become as savvy about finance, EBITA, P&L statements and gross margin as they are becoming about flexing styles, providing feedback and writing an excellent set of goals?


On Specialization and Preferences

“But wait…” many thought.

“If we had wanted that type of role, we would’ve gone down that path. We love our jobs, and don’t want to see them change so fundamentally!”

The discussions followed some of these themes:  

Yes, things are changing.

And yes, classroom learning is becoming outdated to some extent.

Measuring Results

At one symposium, we had a mix of vendors and talent leaders in the room. The question was asked about measuring the impact of learning programs, not in dollars but in positive adaption of behavior change.

In other words, how can we tell if the program actually made a difference beyond good scores on a smile sheet.

The vendors had no answers…

We all agreed learning programs, delivered the traditional way, need to be better measured and evaluated for impact on the bottom line or they will become irrelevant in today’s economy.

On Handling Blind Spots

However, learning is only part of what we do as Leadership Development professionals. If leaders knew where they needed help, we wouldn’t have jobs.

But the very definition of a blind spot is that you can’t see it.

Key areas of our expertise lie in delivering assessments, providing coaching and development programs, and providing opportunities for leaders to improve in targeted areas, which then helps them drive their business more effectively.

Removing professional trainers and coaches from that equation would leave many leaders unaware of their issues and thus unable to solve them.

Having a neutral party come in, diagnose individual or team challenges, and provide solutions to resolve said challenges are interventions that we all agreed continue to be key to businesses’ ongoing success.

The Final Word…

So what was the verdict of our many discussions?

Some aspects of leadership development may disappear.

But if we continue to evolve with technology, bring a higher accountability for tracking and communicating impact to the bottom line, and add value with our ability to help drive awareness,we will be needed for a long time to come.

So what are some of the changes that you seen materialize over the last 10 years in the leadership learning space? How has technology helped or hindered actual performance you have seen? What are you doing about bring better controls and measurements to your practice to help prove bottom-line results? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Rachel Wallins is VP Leadership Development at Wolters Kluwer
She provides overall Talent Management Strategy Development and Implementation

Email | LinkedIn |  Web 

Image Sources: wdmerriam.com


4 responses to “Leadership Development: Going Extinct or Merely Transforming?

  1. Excellent blog! Leadership development needs to evolve to meet the needs of the new workforce and changing realities of work. We need to help leaders become change resilient.


  2. Great summary, Rachel. I believe the trick to maintaining the relevance of Leadership Development today is turning it into a profit-center. Here’s how:

    1. Issue a set of challenges linked directly to the biz strategy
    2. Empower small teams of high-potentials to do whatever it takes to achieve real, bottom-line business results associated with those challenges in a very short period of time (about 100 days)
    3. Provide the coaching and support team members need to hit their goals
    4. Celebrate success, codify learning, and scale up to generate even better biz performance

    Check out my colleague Wes Siegel’s blog for more on how to put this approach into play: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2011/09/02/in-jobs-crisis-in-house-talent-development-is-key/


  3. Pingback: Leadership updates for 06/12/2012·

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful summary. I’ve just started a leadership development company and I was a bit worried as I started the article. Good to know our services will still be needed. I think a new area that will offer great benefit is incorporating neuroleadership principles into training. thanks for the post.


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