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ATD Blog

The Democratization of Leadership

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

CTDO Next Believes That It Is The Responsibility Of The Talent Development Function To Ensure Equity Of Access To All Of The Resources Aimed At Developing Leaders.

It is a part of everyone’s role to be a leader and to help others learn to lead. It is especially incumbent on those who hold formal leadership positions to develop leadership capability in everyone they manage. Successful leadership development builds leadership capability at every level of the organization.

As talent development professionals, we must drive the democratization of leadership development. Our perspective must change from focusing on individuals to enabling collective leadership. We must cease to organize development options exclusively around hierarchical positions and instead create tools and support around critical leadership moments that face people throughout the organization. While we may still have reasons to identify high-potential employees, we must operate on the assumption that everyone has leadership potential that, if realized, could be critical to our success.


Organizations may still need to employ special programs, experiences, interventions, and tools to accelerate the development or improve the current performance of targeted groups such as senior executives or high-potential employees. But leadership development must not be limited to those groups, and leadership development cannot be limited to formalized programs or interventions. Instead, we must examine and improve the systems, processes, and circumstances that inspire and build leadership the daily course of work.


Make your leadership development resources available to everyone so that leaders can develop wherever they reside in the organization.

This view requires us to:

  1. Proactively close gaps that disadvantage some employees. It is not enough to make our portfolio available to all. We must also look to see if geography, language, technology, time to learn, or other issues create inequity and resolve those issues.
  2. Create transparency. It must be simple and easy for everyone in the organization to know what developmental assets are available and how to access them.
  3. Enable self-assessment, which leads to greater self-awareness. Everyone must have the tools to see clearly the gaps between the leadership capabilities they have and those they aspire to have. Create the feedback systems people need to calibrate their personal journeys.
  4. Curate new and trusted resources. Find new resources where they reside or are being user-generated. Establish a collection of trusted and effective resources and guide employees in their best use.
  5. Take accountability. Own leadership development as it applies to everyone.

If we do it right, the face of leadership will change. It will be found in individuals and teams everywhere. Leaders from all parts of the organization (and even from outside of it) will emerge when needed because leadership will be a part of every job.

About the Author

CTDO Next is ATD’s premier membership for talent development executives who want to shape the future of the profession. This network of global learning leaders is passionate about transformations that affect the field. Through the work of CTDO Next, members explore a variety of forward-focused topics with the goal to take a position and lead the profession. Learn more at

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