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October 2012


“Future Trends in Leadership Development”


by Nick Petrie (Center for Creative Leadership, 2011)


What are the big take-aways?


Petrie makes the very persuasive case that the demands on leadership in our globalized, volatile, rapidly-changing and increasingly complex world have evolved to such an extent that the way leaders are developed and trained must similarly evolve.  Based on his research, Petrie asserts that the four trends for future leadership development are (pp. 6-7):


  • More focus on vertical (i.e. developmental stage) growth, rather than horizontal (i.e. skills and competencies) development;
  • Transfer of ownership over leadership development – and responsibility for learning – from the organization (such as HR, managers, trainers) to the individual;
  • More focus on collective rather than individual leadership (i.e. “There is a transition occurring from the old paradigm in which leadership resided in a person or role, to a new one in which leadership is a collective process that is spread throughout networks of people,” p. 6);
  • Greater innovation in the methods used for developing leaders, with technology and the web as major drivers.


Why did I like it?


I believe that deep personal growth is so key to cultivating effective leadership – in all industries, sectors, and geographies – that later this month I am making a significant investment in my own professional growth by taking a three-day intensive course on using a vertical adult development theory in my coaching practice with leaders.


Why the emphasis on vertical development?  Vertical development (rather than horizontal skills-building) is positively associated with one’s capacity for handling complexity.  Petrie reports (p. 8) that “researchers have identified several criteria that make complex environments especially difficult to manage:


  • They contain a large number of interacting elements.
  • Information in the system is highly ambiguous, incomplete, or indecipherable. Interactions among system elements are non-linear and tightly-coupled such that small changes can produce disproportionately large effects.
  • Solutions emerge from the dynamics within the system and cannot be imposed from outside with predictable results.
  • Hindsight does not lead to foresight since the elements and conditions of the system can be in continual flux.”


In my leadership coaching practice I have noticed precisely these dynamics, and others mentioned in the report (p. 8), as the most critical challenges facing my clients.


In what situations would this be useful?


If you are a leader in an organization planning to build an in-house leadership development training program, or searching for a strategic partner to provide leadership training, this Center for Creative Leadership “white paper” on future trends will offer useful information about what activities and objectives to include in the curriculum.  The research behind this report indicates that the leadership traits which an effective, forward-looking program will foster in participants include “adaptability, self-awareness, boundary spanning, collaboration, and network thinking” (p. 9).  These are, arguably, not discrete skills but what I might call “ways of being.”


Also, if you are a leader who has heard about vertical development, or you’re just curious about the concepts or about how to cultivate this kind of growth in yourself or others, Petrie’s clear and straightforward overview will provide a valuable briefing on the subject.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


A terrific on-point resource would be Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger (reviewed previously in the Leadership Library).  Because Berger studied with Robert Kegan and his work is also cited by Petrie in “Future Trends in Leadership Development,” the book Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in You and Your Organization by Kegan and Lahey (reviewed earlier in the Leadership Library) is also a natural choice.  For yet another cut at the adult developmental perspective on leadership, in similar terms but with a different framework, I recommend Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change by Joiner and Josephs (also previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).


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