Leadership development trends

By Bruce Watt

Published on 16-02-2013

Leadership development

The economic upheaval of the past two years has had a lasting impact on today's business landscape. As everyone struggles to do more with less, executive leaders are facing a whole new crop of demands. Bruce Watt, managing director of DDI Australia explains how leadership development trends are changing ...

More than ever, senior leaders today are required to shape organisational strategy, shift business paradigms, strengthen their company's brand, drive innovation, enhance organisational talent, create alignment and accountability, build a high performance culture and ultimately drive profitability.

It's a big ask, but it's becoming a necessity in today's increasingly competitive environment. Many organisations are re-examining the way their executives learn, in an effort to equip them with the growing number of skills needed to help their organisations survive.

DDI, along with our partner, the Institute of Executive Development, has recently developed a table to provide companies with a snapshot of recent trends in executive development, based on our many client engagements over the past decade.

The table compares current trends with executive development trends of the past.



 Then (ED1)



 Now (ED2)


  Philosophy of Development   Develop business acumen and leadership skills of individual executive   Develop effective leadership as an organisational capacity from top to bottom  
  Strategy   Role-based, individualised development by level   Integrated pipeline leadership development architecture  
  Time Frame   Short-term development plans   Long-term strategy with high-impact immediacy  
  Target Audience   Executives   The organisation with executives as leadership development role models  
  Process / Methodology   Isolated formal learning events, some coaching and mentoring   Cohort development combined with individual 70/20/10 learning journeys, leaders as teachers  
  Topics   Setting Strategy, Managing Change, Profitability   Innovation, Agility, Strategic Decision-making, Leader as Social Architect  
  Budget   High per person   Lower per person, higher impact  
          Source: Institute of Executive Development  


ED 2 shows the ways in which executive development philosophy, strategies and tactics are changing.

In order to drive individual and organisational transformation, organisations today view executive development as a leadership pipeline development strategy as opposed to a set of courses offered at senior levels.

Organisations today also recognise that the way senior leaders learn is changing. In the past, executive development plans were very individualised with emphasis on developing one leader at a time.

Today, rather than attending a few seminars at a business school, executives are benefitting more from high-impact peer workshops where they tackle current organisational challenges in a peer coaching environment, followed by the development of individualised plans, based on actual business drivers which outline the actions leaders must take to move their business forward.

These activities are often part of the 70/20/10 development formula (70% of learning occurs on the job, 20% comes from others in the form of mentoring and coaching, and 10% is formal classroom training).

Noticeably missing from the "Process/Methodology" category are web-based and social media-based learning modalities. While these can be effective, we firmly believe that they are not as useful at the senior level as the primary development method. i.e. Executives learn and solve organisational problems best when they are face to face and learning from each other.

So how can you apply these philosophies to your organisation?

Firstly, we suggest approaching all leadership development from a strategic standpoint. Define development needs across every level of leadership by identifying what actions leaders must take to move the business forward.

Secondly, be sure to connect the key actions of your executives to real business challenges, thus, providing the opportunity for immediate application of new skills while solving actual problems.

Thirdly, craft "learning journeys" that leverage the 70/20/10 formula. These days, there's no room for the old "sending executives off to charm school" models of development.

Organisations that adhere to this new way of developing their executives will find that the act of learning and development actually becomes self-perpetuating. The more your senior leaders learn, the more they will teach and develop others.

Bruce Watt, Managing Director, DDI Australia

Bruce Watt has been managing director for DDI in Australia since 2003. He is passionate about executive development, integrating talent solutions to align with business strategy, developing succession management systems, and assessing executive capability and potential. Please send any comments or questions you have in relation to this article to: