Innovation in leadership development: What's new, what's next

  • Paul Eccher

    Paul Eccher

  • Photo provided to the Daily Herald

    Photo provided to the Daily Herald

Updated 3/23/2022 12:44 PM

It wasn't that long ago that the traditional leadership development model looked like this: Employees waited patiently to be invited to attend leadership development training, which was delivered in-person and obligated learners to accommodate the program's schedule and requirements.

This is no longer the case.


Leadership development has recently morphed due to a number of confluent factors. We've found, for example, that emerging leaders preferred more integrative, on-demand learning like LinkedIn learning platforms and TED Talks. The advent of technology-based methods for training delivery provided therefore evolved to offer more flexible, accessible education. And of course, remote work opened the floodgates for learning to happen anytime and anywhere.

Not only does leadership development look much different from it used to, but it's evolving at incredible speed. Where is it heading? Here are the top trends I'm seeing today:

Personalized learning experiences are key

The most innovative companies are pivoting from one-size-fits-all training sessions to a "pick your own adventure" model. This new model actively involves skills assessments to pinpoint the unique development needs of each emerging leader.

Think of it this way: If you were attending a training session, wouldn't you like to learn about and practice new concepts that align with your aspirations, skill level and development needs rather than sit through a generic curriculum meant for the masses? The best companies view a personalized learning experience as a way to retain emerging talent and prevent employees from thinking there are greener pastures elsewhere.

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Microlearning leads to habit development

Short bursts create sticky learning experiences and make retention easier. As content is broken down into bite-size pieces, leaders are more likely to invest the necessary time to use them on the job. Companies are learning to provide small modules of learning and to then place 80 percent of the focus on practice -- which is essential to building a new habit and thus a new skill. To improve your tennis game, would you rather read 10 books on perfecting your backhand, or would you prefer to practice under the guidance of a tennis coach?

Neurolearning concepts underscore education

We understand so much more about the human brain than we used to. We know how short a typical attention span is, and that our brains "file" information during sleep.

We must provide boosters and regular triggers after training to enhance memory recall, and that tying new to existing information will help it stick. By applying neuroscience to leadership development platforms like Vayability, we help learners achieve long-lasting impact.

Soft skills are surging in importance

The best leaders lead with empathy, humility, are great listeners and team builders. Work done by Daniel Goleman on the concept of emotional intelligence demonstrated the critical importance of what we call "soft skills." Great leadership stems from a high level of self-awareness and self-regulation. Thus, leadership development places more focus on self-understanding, knowing your emotional triggers and how best to manage them.


With these trends in mind, it's important to evaluate any leadership development program carefully. Look for these three attributes to ensure the program you're selecting is both innovative and effective:

1. It takes a humanistic approach and shows an understanding of the needs of today's learners.

2. The focus is on habit-building rather than classroom training.

3. The program collects meaningful outcome data to prove ROI.

Leadership development has clearly evolved with the ability to customize, virtualize and humanize today's approach to learning. Innovations will continue to take tomorrow's leaders to the next level as we learn even more.

• Paul Eccher, Ph.D., is president and CEO of The Vaya Group in Warrenville.

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