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Leadership Development in Post-Heroic Times—An L&D Orientation


Wed Feb 25 2015

Leadership Development in Post-Heroic Times—An L&D Orientation

This is the second post in a three-part series examining leadership.  (See post 1 and post 3.) 

In the present business climate, the leaders need to become champions of the “learning organization” as designers, teachers, and stewards (Senge 1990), rather than position themselves as the traditional charismatic hero (Steyrer 1998).  With that in mind, leading others requires constant learning and development (L&D) and designing of knowledge-creative workplaces that foster growth. 


Agile Skills Required 

Enter “design thinking.” Research reveals that design-driven companies, such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, IBM, Intuit, Nike, P&G, Starbucks, Starwood, Target, Walt Disney, or Whirlpool, have outperformed America’s S&P 500 large companies by an extraordinary 228 percent over 10 years (DMI 2014). Likewise, being smart about agile working, agile workforce, and agile environments and cultures should be on every leader’s list of priorities. 

In fact, a 2014 CIPD survey of HR leaders and employees found that improving “leadership and management capability” (64 percent of respondents) and “learning and development” (54 percent of respondents) are top tactics to deliver organizational agility. Meanwhile, respondents in the CIPD research ranked “reward management” (15 percent of respondents) and “increasing workforce diversity” (17 percent of respondents) much lower. 

In the 2014 report, Change Agents: The Role of Organizational Learning in Change Management, ATD Research concurred that organizations and their leaders should be more adaptive to change. Indeed, the research study found that 61 percent of organizations experience three or more changes per year, but they are not prepared to manage that change. Only 17 percent of respondents rate their enterprises as highly effective at managing change, and a mere 30 percent of organizations have change management teams. 

The good news is that there is clear evidence that an adaptive, generative, and knowledge-productive learning and development (L&D) approach to leadership development can provide the infrastructure for numerous progressive methods designed to produce adaptive leaders. Coaching and self-managed learning are clear examples of this approach. 


Why Coaching Works 

Through my own research into leadership development, I have found that coaching is about building and sustaining high-quality links with others. Extremely good coaches energize, ask, listen, invite, and equip others to develop themselves and achieve their personal and professional best. 

How does this work? The coach energizes the relationship, while the coachee empowers it. As a result, the link re-energizes the coachee, so that he or she is better able to discern, ideate, transform, and deliver (Tkaczyk 2014). More importantly, numerous coaching skills can be applied routinely with clients, peers, or direct reports. They include setting the stage, bringing forth positive leadership presence, tracking information, identifying issues and key factors, playing back exchanges and checking-in, giving and receiving constructive feedback. In addition, one of the most important tools when working with others is the skill of positive inquiry (Tkaczyk 2014). 

Meanwhile, Stanford’s 2013 Executive Coaching Survey revealed that nearly 100 percent of CEOs enjoy the process of coaching and receiving leadership advice from professional coaches and outside advisors. Although CEOs are receptive to making changes based on these interventions, the Stanford study found that a majority (66 percent) do not receive leadership advice or coaching. 

To be sure, the benefits of coaching for developing leadership skills are tangible. ATD Research’s report, The Coaching Approach: A Key Tool for Successful Managers, concluded that, in reality, coaching improves communication (69 percent), raises engagement (65 percent), improves skills-to-performance transfer (63 percent), and stimulates productivity (61 percent). 


Becoming Self-Managed Learning Leaders 

As leaders grow, they need to become “L&D crafters” (Tkaczyk 2014). To maximize their leadership presence and learning agility, rooted in design thinking (Austin and Devin 2003, Martin 2009) and positive organizational scholarship (Cameron at el_._ 2003, Cameron and Spreitzer 2012), such L&D crafters may routinely use a “continuing developmental portfolio” comprised of two components: 

  1. Continuing Executive Development Check-In: A disciplined L&D system, self-managed by an individual who constantly “checks in” with themselves by asking reflective questions regarding any critical and opportunistic incidents that happened in the workplace or outside, daily or in the past week.

  2. Design: A natural and drilled L&D mechanism that is self-guided by the leader, in which they constantly “design” their own L&D by asking developmental inquiries regarding what it is that they still want to learn and develop, and how exactly they will execute their development plan. 

International research conducted by the Learning Entrepreneurs project from September 2011 through September 2013 found that such self-managed learning produces personal gains: upgrades your skills and helps monitor your learning in an evidence-based way (91 percent) and boosts your credibility as a reflective and creative leader (90 percent). It also offers organizational benefits: unlocks HR potential (80 percent) and builds “knowledge-creative” workplaces (73 percent). 

Interestingly, participants in this global research project represented diverse geographies, including Africa, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, and North America. Still, more scientific research is needed, especially as Asia/Pacific leaders were not represented in the study (Tkaczyk 2014). For more on “self-coaching” as a self-managed leadership development method, see my August 2014 TD article, “Daily Check-Ins Stimulate Self-Improvement.” 

Finally, other approaches for developing leaders for future success can include:

  • cognitive or relational job re-design

  • job enlargements

  • position transfers

  • job rotations

  • sabbaticals

  • externships—professional development through a full-time temporary position at another organization

  • self-assessment inventories

  • 360-degree feedback

  • psychological profiling and strengths-finding

  • leaderless group discussions in which a team of multiple leaders is assigned a complex challenge and must work together to work it out within a certain time period

  • acting and storytelling

  • concept mapping

  • repertory grids

  • critical incident technique, as utilized in job analysis,

  • mentoring

  • ·one-on-one Personal Management Interview (PMI) programs, namely purpose-finding and role-negotiation sessions—approximately 60-120 minute each, and preferably twice per month, depending on life cycle rhythm of work. 

The final installment in this leadership series will address future vistas in leadership.


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