6 Future Trends of Leadership Development

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

I’ve spent the last 3 years in and around leadership development online.  I have also spent the last 30 years learning about leadership development (and learning in general).  After numerous mistakes, and before several more, some things have become obvious to me because of my time online.

Leadership development is changing quickly.  I’m not speaking as much about leadership itself, but the act of developing oneself or others as leaders.  I also know 3 years isn’t a lot of experience, but it is a long time on the Internet, especially if you haven’t been here as long.  The online community of leadership developers is still quite small.  As a result, it may still be “some time” before the world actually experiences some of the trends below.  But I also think that “some time” will be measured in single-digit years rather than decades.

Three Changing Trends

There are 3 changing trends in leadership development that I can deduce from watching the evolution of social media, the Internet and the leadership development community.

Leadership development will become more personal.  As organizations become flatter and as they cut back on people expenses, organizations will purchase less and less leadership development.  As a result, more individuals make the selections of what training is purchased; more purchases will be made one-person-at-a-time.  Also, more will demand the ability to set their own pace.

Leadership development becomes more internal.  It becomes more about who you are, than how you behave once you have a position.  Besides, there simply aren’t enough positions, and too many of us have been victimized by someone we didn’t respect who just happened to be in a leadership position.  More and more of leadership development will continue to be about how to gain the respect and trust of others or how to inspire others.  Respect and trust become the fuel for the new leader.

Trial and error feedback loops will accelerate.  (See the first Continuing Trend below.) Several factors in our world point to everything happing quicker.  We won’t listen to a week-long training class and then try to apply that in our jobs for the next 6 months.  We need our leadership development in blog-post sized chunks so we can try them out this afternoon.  And if they don’t work in a day or two, we’ll try something else.

Three Continuing Trends

Three other trends in leadership development will continue.  Of note those include:

Leadership development is learned, not taught.  Trial and error remains an integral part of leadership development.

We still grant credibility the way we always have.  Credibility is created over time, through results.  And we tend to extend more credibility to those we experience first hand in their trade.  It takes time and positive results to become a credible leadership developer.

We still grant respect the way we always have.  As John Maxwell and others have said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  We withhold respect from those we don’t trust.

In my next post, we’ll talk about behaviors we need to reinforce or change related to these trends.  But before we do that…

What about you?  I know many great leaders read this blog from time to time.  What do you think about the future of  leadership development?  What trends do you see or how might you expound on these?

Photo © crystal kirk – Fotolia.com

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Tristan Bishop  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Great post, Mike. Thank you for sharing.

One trend I see taking shape is that the selection of mentors (and those mentored) will become more organic, and less prescriptive. Because it is increasingly easier for people to find and engage leaders they admire, mentoring relationships are forming outside of conventional boundaries.

While large organizations will always have formal mentoring and training processes, many people will be seeking out guidance from those who specifically inspire them.

Mike Henry  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply

I agree Tristan. We can connect with more people more quickly. Mentoring is the best form of the dialogue I mention above because the mentor takes some responsibility for the accuracy of the coaching and advice they propose. In a dialogue, both parties can be wrong and encourage other to continue the error.

Thanks for being part of my leadership development. I appreciate it. Mike…

Shawn Murphy  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply

A fave topic of mine. Your first observation under “Three Changing Trends” is intriguing. I can see it to be possible with budgets shrinking – public and private industries – and more carefully selected learning & development solutions are sought. It certainly changes how vendors make available their offering. It’s compelling.

For this to be successful, managers must alter how they support the learning and development of staff. A greater emphasis must be placed on development post-learning or development – period. Managers who can provide development assignments or opportunities to their leaders after a learning solution will increase the return on time. Patience, however, must also be learned. As you point out, leadership is learned from the successes and failures. I’d add that principals, approaches, and such can be taught to aid the on-the-job development associated with successes and failures.


Mike Henry  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Shawn, I agree. I think the most appreciated managers will continue to be those who help people iterate through the trial-and-error loop quickly. Thanks for adding to the discussion. Mike…

Jim Kouzes  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Mike, Thanks for sharing the lessons you’ve learned about leadership development. One of the consistent findings in my and Barry Posner’s research on leadership over the last 30 years is that “the best leaders are the best learners.” The more leaders engage in learning, the more effective they are at leading. Learning is the master skill. And, leadership development has always been self-development. Meaning, it begins with a inner journey to discover who you are. Love ’em and lead ’em, Jim

Mike Henry  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply


Thank you for the feedback. A big part of my leadership development over the past 3 years came from both studying and teaching from Leadership Challenge. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment that all leadership development is self-development. It’s a favorite quote of yours that I share.

Do you see the market for organization-sponsored leadership development shrinking too? Coming from the position of an individual, I just see corporate training decreasing due to lack of effectiveness. And I see growth in the individual and academic pursuits around leadership, both as a result of the organizational cuts and as a cause for the organizational cuts.

Thanks again. Mike…

Maranda Gibson  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Mike, thanks for these thoughts. I would add that leadership will be more personal as well as being more of a school of shared thought. Yes companies will stop spending as much on leadership development, so it will continue to be important that we share our leadership thoughts and ideas with each other.

Mike Henry  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply

I agree. Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it. Mike…

Terry Sexton  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply


Thanks for sharing your insights from your experience. On reflection I think I’ve seen the same trends, just used different language to describe them. I think there has been a trend towards more ‘Leader’ development than ‘Leadership’ development. This appears similar to your ‘Leadership is becoming more internal trend’. With change being quicker and more complex the research is pointing towards leaders needing to develop greater cognitive agility, emotional intelligence, and moral judgement.

Mike Henry  |  13 Oct 2011  |  Reply

That’s another great way of saying it. Leader development is a great way to describe the individualization going on. It’s the way our world will create more leaders than we have “positions” for them to fill. Thanks for the comment! Mike…

Mike Myatt  |  14 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Hi Mike:

Both the post and the comment stream provided some interesting food for thought. Here are a few contributions to throw into the mix:

1. Experiential learning has and always will exist, but only to those who seek it out. Learning only takes place where willingness and awareness are present.

2. I disagree with those who believe leadership development budgets are shrinking. My experience is just the opposite. Our leadership development practice has been growing at more than 30% per annum over the last three years, during a tough economic climate where companies have supposedly not been spending. The world has experienced a leadership vacuum in recent history, which has served to awaken many to the value of reestablishing leadership as a competency. As the market becomes more complex and dynamic, smart companies are spending more on leaders not less – they regain an understanding that leadership is more than a title.

3. As for new trends, I could list many, but here are a few to ponder:
a. Leaders will do more than talk about social capital, but they’ll actually begin to understand it and embrace it by doing more than just having a social presence. Integrating social media into business process and leadership models will become the rule rather than the exception.
b. Leadership moves from a proprietary model to an open source model where principles of scarcity give way to sharing. This will happen in a way that takes the concept of distributive leadership to levels not previously experienced.
c. Leaders will realize the need to shift from the goal business to the discovery business. They will finally recognize everyone is now in the design business.
d. Companies will awaken the the fact that diversity has been misunderstood, if not abused. Rather than dealing with diversity as a compliance mandate to deal with protected classes, it will be embraced as a necessity for challenging paradigms and bending norms to more efficiently drive innovation.

Thanks Mike…

Mike Henry  |  14 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the great addition Mike. I appreciate the thought and the ideas you offer. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by 3c. Could you provide a bit more info?

I agree with your thoughts on diversity (3d). I was fortunate enough to work at an organization that understood diversity so I look forward to more people and organizations understanding the need for a variety of inputs and the equality of different perspectives. And I’m also in agreement with the open-source movement in leadership (3b), but in my experience few people in leadership positions understand the need to open things up. I see them trying incremental approaches to address a revolution-sized problem.

In fact, that’s where I see training and development budgets increasing too, to refer to your thoughts on #2. The investment is in equipping and developing existing leadership, not in createing a new culture of open leadership.

But my vision is limited, so I hope you’re right and the combination of increased spending, the abundance mentality and embracing diversity all advance. It will take a combination like that to make a dent in the world’s leadership deficiency.

Thanks again for joining in. Mike…

Santu Mahapatra  |  14 Oct 2011  |  Reply

The post is great and the comments are awesome.

The growing social media will have a great impact on Leadership. Tomorrows leaders will be more transparent and authentic. Walking the talk will become more and more crucial in the interconnected world.

As you rightly said, the feedback loop is getting faster. The results will be quite fast.

Mike Henry  |  15 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Santu, thanks for the comment. I agree that social media, combined with our growing distrust of leaders will cause a rise in authenticity and transparency, but it will also cause a corresponding rise in counterfeit authenticity and transparency. Everything has a price.

Thanks again. Mike…

Liane Davey  |  15 Oct 2011  |  Reply

I think another trend is less “in vitro” and more “in vivo” leadership development. Our practice is growing quickly I believe because we’re developing leaders “in the business” not only in formal learning sessions but in large scale leader forums and in teams. I think businesses will spend less on big academic programs that take leaders out of the business and out of context The real issues that emerge are more engaging than case studies. And instead of leadersip development being seen as time away it can be seen as dedicated time on the problems at hand.

Mike Henry  |  15 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Liane, I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I think communities like Lead Change are on the rise because medium sized organizations have drastically curtailed the in vivo leadership development. There are fewer mentors and fewer opportunities for that rapid trial-and-error I mentioned above. And I think in the long run, some traditional training dollars will be replaced with more cross-functional leadership development. I’m working on a post that will kick around ideas for embracing the future and your thoughts about “in vivo” leadership development got my mind spinning. Please plan to chip in on that post in a few days too.

Thanks again. Mike…

Jim Kouzes  |  15 Oct 2011  |  Reply


You had asked me if I saw the market shrinking for organization-sponsored leadership development shrinking. My answer is “Yes,” the survey data show that compared to 2009 there has been a decrease in participation in leadership and executive development programs at all levels. Most attribute the decline to the economy, and there’s an expectation that it will increase as the economy improves, not only because of available resources but also because there’s a new generation of leaders who are in need of development. And given the fact that they haven’t been getting as much opportunity over the past couple years, we may see a significant increase in participation as we look ahead 3 to 5 years. At the same time, there will be increased demand to demonstrate that leadership development efforts bring improved results. Participation won’t be the measure; results will.

Mike Henry  |  17 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Jim, thanks for following up. I’m most challenged by what you state at the end. We will experience increased demand to demonstrate that leadership development efforts bring improved results. Results will be the measure of success. Thanks for joining the conversation.


Seth Millican  |  15 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Mike, Thanks for sharing these concepts. I’ve been studying leadership concepts for a couple of years. I just recently felt the calling to begin sharing them specifically as they relate to leadership development for younger guys. To that end, I’ve launched a blog. The past few months have been a blur of trying to learn and digest information relative to online learning, and so the continuing trends you mentioned are pretty familiar for me. However, the emerging trends you outlined are fascinating to me.

I think those emerging trends are also encouraging, though, because they all point to an increase in personal drive and responsibility relative to leadership. A leadership development becomes more relational (the guy mentioned earlier the importance of mentoring) and individually driven, it will naturally become more solid and sustainable. Someone mentioned the organic nature of this emerging trend, and I believe that is what will make leadership development in the future healthier and more infectious.

Mike Henry  |  15 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Seth, thanks for the great comment. One of the great things about these discussions is how each person adds to the overall result. Thanks for taking part. Mike…

Tom Strawn  |  16 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Excellent article. And very much on target. I found your reference to “leadership development becoming more internal and becoming more about who you are” as a Changing Trend very interesting.

Interesting in that CCL has always maintained as one of its core principles – “You cannot effectively lead others until you first know who you are”. As an alumnus of its Executive Leadership program where finding out who you are is one of the program’s primary goals – I can attest to the validity of this principle.

Perhaps it is a changing trend in that there is a greater embrace of the value of “knowing who you are” in leading others based on experience and evidence of its validity.

Mike Henry  |  17 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Tom, thanks for the comment. I think a number of leadership development professionals and schools of thought have asserted that leadership is about character (who you are) rather than behavior (how you act). However much of the training I received over the years was packaged (or received by me) as how to behave. At the same time, leaders in both political and business realms are respected less and less. We continue to hear about the bad ones and little about the good ones. Part of what I attribute to the Internet is opening up media so that character-based leaders can have greater exposure to the rest of the world. We subconscously get the idea that leaders can be good people, and that we can, in fact, lead. I hope growth in those two ideas continues.

Thanks again for the great comment. Mike…

Jon M  |  17 Oct 2011  |  Reply

I am encouraged by the future of leadership, because I believe it is becoming more personal. People are taking more responsibility in their skills and how they are being applied in the workplace. People are mixing their social and business leadership abilities and creating organizations like TOMS and others. People are trying to enhance their workplaces and the good their organizations do.

We get stuck in the economic mess all around us, yet their are several encouraging trends for the next generation of leaders.

Great post! Enjoyed it!


Mike Henry  |  17 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the great comment Jon. People are bringing their best energy to make a positive difference and companies like TOMS (if you’re talking about the shoe company that donates a pair of shoes for every one purchased) are springing up because someone took the initiative. Rather than looking at the mess around us and letting it cause us to withdraw, it should insprire us to act. Thanks for sharing the comment.


Martine Potvin  |  31 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Dear Mike,
Regarding to changing trends:

I would find it very sad to leave programs on leadership grow randomly according to individual needs without long-term perspective for the company, without assessment of their impacts and their results on the overall performance of the organization.

I remain convinced that as consultants and coaches, it is to our advantage to embrace our practice of leadership development in a comprehensive and integrated approach to business.

a) It is essential to link our actions to the strategic objectives the company and tailor our content and our methods for this purpose. The environments are changing so fast that it is wrong to believe that “one fit for all” and “all fit for one” will continue to give the desired results. However, it is clear that to succeed, we must be able to access the CEO level in order to tailor our interventions to the real business needs. For example, strategic objectives focus on developing the sales force does not require the same leadership development strategies than those focusing on reducing costs and improving process efficiency.

b) Despite the many retirements, very few companies still put forward a structured succession planning approach linked to organizational strategy to prepare the arrival of new leaders. And even fewer companies identify in advance the skills required in each management position based on challenges and outcomes. We have here a unique opportunity to be helpful by helping to identify the set of skills required in each managing position and further coaching managers to develop themselves by and individual plan of leadership development.

c) It is true that managers have much less time to spend long hours in workshops. The Leadership development programs must be tailored in such a way that the learning can be done in the action immediately after knowledge is acquired. We also have here opportunities to coach on an individual basis by a schedule of sharings online or face to face.

Mike Henry  |  31 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Martine, thank you for the detailed reply. I don’t disagree with you and I’m not suggesting a disjointed or un-integrated approach to leadership development. In fact, I put up a post yesterday that began the discussion of how to respond to these changing trends. I don’t think for a minute that we should abandon our beliefs, but I do think there are some things we can do to make it easier for organizations impacted by these trends.

Thanks again for the comprehensive response. Mike…

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