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The Future of Leadership Development- Part I

by Kevin Wheeler on January 7, 2010

I recently made a presentation on the future of leadership development at the Online Educa 2009 conference in Berlin. Online Educa is an annual gathering of e-learning professionals, vendors and academics from Europe, Asia and a handful (mostly vendors) from the United States.

This is a summary of what I said and I hope for your comments and thoughts to round out and deepen my own.

I started my future of leadership development talk with some focus on current assumptions and facts.

  • The need for leadership is very high. Most people/organizations are feeling lost and are seeking direction.
  • The supply of seasoned leaders is small and shrinking as Baby Boomers retire. There is a lot to be said for living longer, experiencing more and having perspective; all things that younger and emerging leaders lack. Yet this generation of leaders seems to be struggling with the demands of the new century and the question becomes: what is the best leadership style and characteristics for tomorrow?
  • Current leadership skills suit hierarchical organizations best.
  • Young Gen X and Gen Y expect to be led and to learn differently than do other generations.

The concept of what a leader should do is partly based on what is probably an innate human need for someone to guide and protect them, but also on the times one lives in. Most of the 20th Century required people who could take control, ensure execution of predetermined solutions, and provide guidance and discipline. Wars and business were successfully carried out by leaders who exemplified those characteristics.

  • The 21st Century will change the concept of leader. Emerging technology, changing attitudes, and environmental challenges have made the leaders of yesterday less relevant. The need today is not to make war or execute formulae, but to make sense out of what is going on.
  • We need as leaders those who can interpret disparate information and who are willing to experiment with new (and probably risky) solutions. This will require people who can innovate and synthesize. We will see those who can facilitate group discussions, lead collaborative efforts to solve new problems where predetermined solutions do not exist, and engage a broad spectrum of relevant people in conversation move into leadership.
  • There are no predetermined solutions to our energy crisis, global warming, the lack of ability to control information, the impact a much larger female working population will exert on corporate structure and culture, or on the effects that a mobile, global workforce will have on decision making and team work.
  • Therefore leaders will not be seen as “all-knowing” but as those who are well-connected to diverse thinkers and innovators and who are highly aware of global trends and emerging issues so that solutions can be developed and tested as early as possible.

Organizations where everyone has a leadership role and takes responsibility when appropriate will gain more acceptance. For more on everyone as a leader see the book by Joe Raelin of Northeastern University entitled Creating Leaderful Organizations: How to Bring Out Leadership in Everyone.

In PART II I will discuss some new teaching methods to hasten the development of emerging leaders.

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