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Leadership Development: No Longer Fit for Purpose?


Tue Jun 11 2013

Leadership Development: No Longer Fit for Purpose?

The global business environment is changing quickly, and organizations are struggling to keep up. The majority of organizations (70%) have raised their expectations of leaders; however, few employees feel confident that their organizations have the right leaders to succeed in a more uncertain environment, according to a recent Corporate Executive Board (CEB) survey.

CEB identified three trends that meaningfully affect how work is structured, managed, and conducted, and how it contributes to the uncertainty and complexity of the environment in which our leaders operate.


Trend One: Frequent Organizational Change. Over the past three years, more than 60% of employees report experiencing frequent changes in organizational objectives. Structural changes in the work environment are just as common.

Trend Two: An Increase in Knowledge Work. More employees are knowledge workers who manage, analyze, and make decisions using information as a primary part of their day-to-day jobs. The problem is that less than 40% of employees can effectively analyze information to make sound decisions, leading to poor employee performance and greater organizational risk.  

Trend Three: More Interdependent Work. Getting work done today requires more collaboration and coordination with a larger and more diverse set of people. As organizations have become more matrixed, employees share formal responsibilities, authority, and accountability for more and more work outcomes.

“Only 31% of program owners are confident that they are impacting the quality of their leadership pipelines.”

Where leaders are concerned, the implications of these three trends are numerous; they include leaders needing to enable their teams to adapt to changing and unfamiliar circumstances, building their own judgment capability and that of their teams, and learning to lead in the absence of formal authority.


Despite several years of increasing investment, conventional leadership development approaches are failing to build the leaders our organizations need: Only 31% of program owners are confident that they are impacting the quality of their leadership pipelines.

Is more investment required or do we need to change our approach? Our ongoing research reveals that leaders’ ability to constantly adapt to new and changing circumstances is crucial to their effectiveness.  Yet conventional leadership development approaches do a poor job at enabling this.  The best organizations are building adaptive and agile leaders by:

  • finding smart ways to create moments of uncertainty, and challenge their leaders with situations that are not just new to them, but new to the organization

  • providing just-in-time leadership development support by looking beyond how they teach leaders critical competencies to how they enable ongoing application in unfamiliar situations

  • involving the leaders’ networks in development; they recognize that leaders achieve success not in isolation but with and through others (and that increasingly, doing so is about influence, engagement, and motivation, not formal authority).

In the second part of this two-part blog series, we’ll reveal the full results of our research and highlight leading practices that you can replicate in order to increase the impact of your leadership development investments, and make them fit for the new work environment.

EDITOR’s NOTE: Read more CEB leadership development research findings online, and download a best practice for leader development planning.

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