Leadership Development Has Never Been More Challenging or More Important

While it is hard to predict the future, leaders need to stay on top of trends. Here are some trends to watch for in leadership development and HR.

Change is everywhere. We work in a challenging and changing world. Generations are transitioning. Organizations are still struggling with where work should be done. Change management is never easy, but it has become tougher than ever.

Since this issue of Training is focused on HR and learning and development (L&D) trends for 2024, I surveyed a few leaders in the field to gather a diversity of perspectives.

  • Jennifer Nash, executive advisor to Fortune 50 organizations and author of award-winning book “Be Human, Lead Human: How to Connect People and Performance,” shared her thoughts: “In a world where screens have hijacked handshakes and emojis have replaced facial expressions, connecting can feel harder than finding a needle in a digital haystack. Human and relational skills often are viewed as ‘soft,’ yet they’re the most overlooked, least understood, infrequently developed, undervalued, and hardest to measure and master. But savvy leaders realize they are the key to unlocking exceptional performance.

Shifting to highlight and prioritize this human element of business is a trend whose time has come. Leaders don’t have to be superheroes. Humanizing workplaces are those where employees feel seen, heard, understood, and appreciated. When this happens, people feel connected to each other, see their values reflected in the organizational culture, and feel fulfilled through purposeful work.”

  • Yuri Kruman, Interim CLO/CHRO, and CEO of HR Talent & Systems Consulting, identified several trends. “First, there’s a lot happening now around custom learning paths for upskilling, reskilling, even for new hire onboarding. Custom career paths are becoming increasingly connected with custom learning paths, as well as with performance management. Through the use of artificial intelligence (AI), employees are reaching their learning goals faster and getting certified, promoted, and paid more. The entire employee lifecycle and experience are becoming gamified, customized, and measured at every step.”
  • Chris Fenning, author of “39 Ways to Make Training Stick,” believes 2024 will see the end of “one-and-done” training. “Companies will expect more post-training support from training providers to combat the rapid rate of forgetting after training ends (Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting). Training providers will need to include more ongoing support, reinforcement, and activities if they want to make their services appealing to an increasingly value-conscious customer.”
  • In the neurodiversity realm, Ludmila Praslova, Ph.D., is the author of the “The Canary Code, A Guide to Neurodiversity, Dignity, and Intersectional Belonging at Work.” She points to this neurodiversity-related trend: “As people increasingly realize the importance of long-neglected disability and neurodiversity inclusion, organizations will seek to deepen their understanding of accessibility, neuroinclusive communication, and other practices that combat ableism and neuroableism. Leaders will continue seeking to understand how disability inclusion can strengthen organizations.”
  • When I asked Dr. Julia Phelan, co-founder of To Eleven, an innovative education consultancy firm, about her thoughts on training and development, she shared three:
  1. “Give people time to learn. There is an increasing awareness that learning takes time. Learning is hard and accumulates gradually.
  2. Establish, evaluate, and report learning outcomes. Training success usually is assessed only through approval ratings and positive feedback. Such ratings, however, do not truly gauge the impact of training. Measuring impact of the learning and development investment depends on the type of training and the stated goals.
  3. Help people manage their careers in ways that align with their personal goals. People are different and everyone on your team may not be on the same path. Kim Scott (in “Radical Candor”) goes into detail about the importance of supporting all employees by helping them increase their impact with an organization—in line with their goals as well as the goals of the company.”
  • Mike Smith just finished the Doctoral program in Leadership and Learning at Vanderbilt, where his dissertation explored the potential of cultural competency to enhance leadership development training. Based on his recent research, “individual competency can only be maximized if there is competency in structures and systems at the organizational level. Learning is a participation sport shaped by the environment. Leaders are increasingly understanding that to change the results of the game, we need to not only coach the players but also examine the playing field and rules.”
  • Another trend, according to Marcia Mueller, VP Global Leadership at IMPACT Group, will be an increased focus on developing mid-level and emerging leaders. “These leaders are tasked with critical responsibilities such as implementing front-line change, building engagement, and delivering operational results. Companies will introduce more professional coaching to fast-track the development of this level of leader with a goal to build skills for today and to create a future talent pipeline. To moderate the cost of full coaching programs, leading companies may integrate coaching in smaller amounts to supplement internal training or online learning. Coaching accelerates application, skills practice, and transfer of learning and is an effective way to grow rising talent.”

Creating the Future

As these thought leaders point out, “soft skills” finally are being recognized as critical skills. The pandemic was a wake-up call for leaders to practice servant leadership where leaders clear obstacles rather than be the obstacle. Compassion, empathy, and understanding rose to the top during the “Great Resignation” and “Quiet Quitting” as employees became empowered to take agency over their careers.

For companies to invest in training and development, it is important to find ways to measure the value—to see if the training is “sticking.” Evaluating training programs for the return on investment has been a long-standing challenge that needs to be addressed. Finally, one size does not fit all. People are different and now is the time for leaders to learn how disability inclusion can strengthen organizations.

No doubt, we are living and working in times of constant change that is only accelerating. While it is hard to predict the future, leaders need to stay on top of trends. But at the same time, I want to remind leaders of one of my favorite quotes by leadership guru Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Jann E. Freed
Jann E. Freed, PhD, is an author, speaker, coach, and leadership development consultant. Her forthcoming book is “Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering” (Routledge Publishing, 2023). For more information, visit http://www.JannFreed.com