The origin of this report stems largely from my own doubts about the methods my colleagues and I had used in the past to develop leaders in organizations. Though the feedback from managers was that they were happy with the programs, my sense was that somehow, what we were delivering was not what they really needed.

It seemed that the nature of the challenges that managers were facing was rapidly changing; however, the methods that we were using to develop them were staying the same. The incremental improvements that we were making in programs were what Chris Argyris would call “single loop” learning (adjustments to the existing techniques), rather than “double loop” learning (changes to the assumptions and thinking upon which the programs were built).

These continual, nagging doubts led me to take a one-year sabbatical at Harvard University with the goal of answering one question–what will the future of leadership development look like? With the aim of getting as many different perspectives as possible, I studied across the schools of the university (Education, Business, Law, Government, Psychology) to learn their approaches to developing leaders and conducted a literature review of the field of leadership development. In addition, I interviewed 30 experts in the field to gather diverse perspectives and asked each of them the following questions:

  1. What are the current approaches being used that you think are the most effective?
  2. What do you think we should be doing more of in terms of developing leaders?
  3. What should we be doing less of/stop doing/phase out?
  4. Where do you see the future of leadership development headed?

The following report is divided into two sections. The first (shorter) section focuses on the current environment and the challenge of developing leaders in an increasingly complex and uncertain world. The second looks in depth at four leadership development trends identified by interviewees and the emerging practices that could form the basis of future leadership development programs.

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