Nick PetrieThe challenge for leadership development is the gap between today’s methods and tomorrow’s problems.

“There are no simple, existing models or programs that are sufficient to develop the levels of collective leadership needed to meet an increasingly complex future,” says Nick Petrie. “We need an era of innovation.”

During a year of study at Harvard, Petrie hoped to find clear answers to what the future of leadership would look like. He talked to more than 30 experts, reviewed leadership development literature and looked to the fields of education, business, law, government and psychology for insight. He identified trends, needs and stumbling blocks.

Now a CCL senior faculty member, Petrie speculates that new development methods will be a process of “punctuated progress.” Transformations are most likely to begin with small pockets of innovators who are prepared to experiment and fail in order to gain feedback from which to build their next iterations.

The good news is that pockets of innovation exist.

  • At CCL, a growing team is learning to partner with clients to build “leadership cultures” rather than individual leader programs. Leadership teams engage in practices to elevate their own levels of development, thus creating “headroom” for the rest of the culture.
  • Also at CCL, the Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative is spreading leadership capacity in new directions, by taking CCL knowledge to the “base of the pyramid” and delivering programs to underserved and overlooked groups in Africa, Asia and India.
  • Harvard’s Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey are sharing their “Immunity to Change” process — a method that accelerates individual growth and development — with universities, businesses and school staff around the world. Rather than try to do it all themselves, they are equipping consultants, HR practitioners and students to take their work out into their communities.
  • DUSUP, a Middle East oil producer, has changed its leadership programs from “content events” to “development processes” in which managers take ownership of their development. All senior managers engaged in a six-month process in which they learned the principles of development, then put those principles into practice on themselves. Only after they have had experience developing themselves with the new tools, do they start coaching their team members to also apply them.

These examples of innovation are not, by themselves, answers to our future development challenges. “They are experiments, pushing the boundaries of existing practice,” says Petrie. “They will give way to even greater innovative breakthroughs as networks of people combine and re-combine different ideas and concepts from diverse domains.”

The most significant breakthrough for the transformation of leadership development may turn out to be the facilitation and networking processes that are developed to share ideas, foster experimentation and continuously offer up new practices that can be widely and quickly distributed.

The future of leadership development is evolving, with many paths, and little clarity, Petrie acknowledges. “But we can take heart from the fact that, like most future leadership challenges, we don’t have solutions because there are not solutions — yet. The answers will be discovered along the way on the messy path of innovation.”

Want to learn more? Download Future Trends in Leadership Development, a CCL white paper by Nicholas Petrie. You can also follow Nick on his blog about learning, growing and performing

Upcoming CCL Innovation Leadership Roundtables in EMEA

In these interactive innovation leadership roundtables, Bert De Coutere will explore ways to enhance your thinking and assumptions about innovation. He will address the main question: “What is leading for innovation?” and invite the audience to discuss in groups the reasons that are stopping us getting innovation done in our companies. The opportunity will be given to network in a dynamic way thanks to experiential exercises and to get you some innovation leadership concepts to become an innovation leader. For additional information about our upcoming events, please contact



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