The Future of Leadership Development


Author: Dr. Nancy Zentis

Much is written about the best practices and trends in leadership development.  Many articles suggest that current leadership development programs offer training workshops, team projects, special assignments, coaching, mentoring, 360-degree feedback, competency development, job-related experience, and job experience to develop leaders.

Current leadership development tends to focus on vertical leadership development, developing leaders in their current role.  However, horizontal leadership development is needed for filling roles that require advanced leadership capabilities.

In the past, many organizations created formal leadership development systems such as training programs, talent pools, career paths, succession planning, and high potential programs.  Often these processes are owned by HR functions rather than senior leaders.  To create a successful leadership development program, senior leadership involvement is critical to the success of building a sustainable process for leadership development.

So, what could work for the future of leadership development?  Here are some of my recommendations:

  1. Create a senior leader advisory team who is responsible for leadership development.
  2. Involve the senior leadership team in identifying the key horizontal (next level up) requirements of all leadership positions presently and in the future. Use this as a development tool for identifying development needs, creating assessments, assignments, projects, in-basket exercises for assessment centers, training, and coaching.
  3. Motivate leaders to be more innovative and creative, to think strategically, and to be flexible and agile.
  4. Leaders should work in teams on developing new skills using an action learning approach. They could have four or five projects during their career, each at a more advanced level.
  5. Promote an organizational culture of learning that identifies people who take ownership of their ongoing development.
  6. Transfer the ownership of learning to the individual. First, the leader identifies his or her development needs, then works with an executive coach to guide them through the process.  The ownership of development belongs to the individual.
  7. Identify high potential leaders who are driven to learn and develop. Provide rewards – including advancement and compensation, and recognition.  Tie to high potential opportunities and future successor positions.
  8. Create a visible process to motivate ownership of leadership development. Minimize the risks and focus on the rewards.

Here are several questions to help determine if an organization promotes ownership of leadership development:

  1. What are you working on that will require you to grow in your current role to accomplish it?
  2. What are you doing to develop these new skills?
  3. Who else is involved and who is supporting you?
  4. Is it important to your boss and others? Do they see it as your strength or opportunity for improvement?
  5. What’s in it for you to develop these new skills?
  6. How will it impact your current and future goals? The organization’s goals?

Encouraging leaders to take ownership of their own development must be supported from the top, encouraged by their boss and valued by the individual.

Forward Feedback Coaching

Innovative organizations are starting to initiate the ownership of self-development.  As a result of a large number of direct reports, top-down coaching and feedback are not feasible.  As a result, leaders must rely on peers to give them feedback on areas of improvement and provide coaching.  This new process is called feedforward coaching.

Using an appreciative inquiry approach, leaders ask trusted peers to provide feedback on their future development needs.  A leader selects 1-2 areas where they want to improve and selects 5-8 trusted peers who can become their feedforward coaches, peers who provide suggestions on how they can improve.  Monthly, the leader asks for feedback and reports back on their progress on how he or she is changing.  After six to twelve months, an assessment is created to evaluate the change in their behavior.

The results are overwhelmingly positive!  It takes only 2-3 hours per month, involves people who can help a leader change, provides a tool for measuring results, and holds the leader accountable.  It creates an ongoing process for individual development and feedback, as well as a structure to provide continuous support.

In summary, changes in leadership development approaches are needed.  The old ways are outdated and ineffective.  Organizations need a new system in place, to hold the senior leadership team accountable- to develop leaders in their current role and future roles to meet the needs of the organization.

Leaders should be encouraged to take ownership of their own development and ownership of self-development integrated into the organizational culture.  Leaders who are driven to learn should be recognized and rewarded.  And finally, innovative approaches to providing coaching and feedback, such as forward feedback coaching, are needed to support the leadership development process.


Dr. Nancy Zentis is the Chief Strategist and CEO of Institute of OD, offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and Professional Development Skills for ongoing learning.  As a consultant in the field of OD for many years, she has developed Talent Management and Leadership Development Strategies for many leading organizations.  She can be reached at  For more information about our certification programs and short courses, visit our website

Institute of Organization Development (IOD) offers Leadership Development Certification Programs (LDCP) to help participants learn how to develop an effective leadership development strategies to achieve organization goals and advance their career as a Leadership Development Professional. This program provides participants with the tools and skills needed to guide senior leaders to design and implement a best practice Leadership Development Program.  After completing the program, you will gain a certification as a Leadership Development Professional and earn the distinction of LDCP.

The Leadership Development Certification Program (LDCP) is offered online over 8 months, 3 hours per month to advance your career in Leadership Development.  Each session is delivered through Go-to-training.  Our expert faculty provide interactive discussions, examples, tools, guidelines, and resources to enrich your learning.


Future Trends in Leadership Development, Nick Petrie, Center for Creative Leadership


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