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Evolving Tech for 21st Century Leadership Development

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
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Take a look at a typical corporate workplace in 2018 and what do you see? Lots of open office space with trendy coffee machines and giant Jenga boards for decompressing? Check. Brightly painted walls accented by motivational posters and company-branded swag? Check. Corner offices filled with company leaders who are counting their days toward retirement? Check. Young professionals eyeing those same offices for their next opportunities, while at the same time needing the knowledge and skills to get there? Check and check!

In fact, research by Monster suggests that 75 million Baby Boomers are expected to retire within the next 10 years. With the well-reported skills gap creating a bottleneck of talent and the upcoming wave of Gen Z workers who will have to be acclimated into the workforce, there is a clear need to ensure that leadership positions are identified, planned for, and effectively transitioned.

Here exists the dilemma of the 21st century around leadership development. Research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership showed that “leaders lack the skills they need to be effective today” and that the current bench strength in high-potential employees is simply not sufficient to fill the leadership roles needed now and in the future. Similarly, Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report asserted that a “radical change” is needed by corporate learning and development professionals in addressing the current challenge of leadership development. A greater focus on relevant, applicable, and adaptive development opportunities must be implemented, along with the integration of experiences focused on problem solving, best-practice sharing, and team synergy. As the importance of leadership development intensifies, we as talent development professionals must ask ourselves, “How will we address the need to effectively develop our next company leaders?”

Traditional leadership development programs focus on core competencies needed for leaders to be successful in their role. These competencies are often instilled in multiday, lecture-style formats, delivered by experts—traditionally either in-house corporate trainers or external facilitators from leadership development content suppliers. More cost-conscious and expedience-driven organizations are leveraging e-learning technology to achieve the same results. Often, the end product consists of boring PowerPoint-style slides with narration, “preaching” information and best practice concepts, and likewise failing to engage or equip learners with the knowledge and skills necessary to take on future roles.

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Both approaches to leadership development lack most of the focus areas the Deloitte report stressed—mainly that leadership development must show a greater relevance to those being groomed, and must allow for a focused, applicable, and inspirational opportunity for leadership candidates to learn, practice, and develop alongside their counterparts. There must be another way, right?

The 21st century dilemma of leadership development deserves a 21st century solution. The buzzwords in training today include gamification, game-based learning, microlearning, simulation-based learning, and virtual reality—all suggesting a new trend toward active, user-focused learning aimed at instilling the full experience set of behaviors needed for success in a future role.

The aim is to mimic real-life scenarios as closely as possible, while engaging the learner to practice skills in trial-and-error style simulated environments. This technology provides a new toolbelt in leadership development. The opportunities for advancement in both quality and efficiency of developing new leaders seem endless. But the best application of such tools is still being worked out. Transforming a “cool” learning opportunity into one with impact requires more than just gameplaying; it requires a strategic alignment of learning objectives, learner experiences, and measured results. It requires pre- and post-session activities that are tied to the content, additional resources to continue the learning, and mentoring to support integration of learning into the learner’s everyday role. And it requires upfront buy-in from both learners and executives to ensure the experiences are seen as valuable, applicable, and business-centered.

The face of leadership development is changing. The question is—are you ready for it?

For more on how to use emerging tech to develop leaders, join us at ATD TechKnowledge 2019 for the session Integrating Serious Gaming and Live Simulations to Produce Serious Results in Leadership Development.

About the Author
Kyle Freedman is the corporate training manager at Enercon Services, a nuclear engineering and environmental services firm. Kyle has more than 10 years learning and development experience in for-profit, nonprofit and government services. His specialties include leadership training, succession planning, and executive coaching.
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About the Author
Tierra Upshaw is the Corporate Trainer at Enercon Services, a nuclear engineering and environmental services firm. In this role, Tierra oversees technical, soft-skill and leadership content/eLearning development and ILT/Webinar training. Tierra has more than five years of Educational and Neural Psychology experience and curriculum development in corporate and K-12 environments. Currently, Tierra is an Instructional Design and Technology graduate student at Georgia State University. Her graduate research focuses on utilizing multimedia technologies to improve cognitive function in adults. Her specialties include training needs analysis, eLearning development, and soft-skills training. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and plans on pursuing a doctoral degree in Instructional Design and Technology.
2 Comments
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Good start to change. The article is right in addressing the need for leadership development to radically change. I just don't think the suggestions for that radical change go far enough. "The aim is to mimic real-life scenarios as closely as possible, while engaging the learner to practice skills in trial-and-error style simulated environments." Why stop at simulation.? We intuitively know, and research would prove, that the best learning experience is by doing. We need to train and apply!
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Great article, and so on point!
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