Three ways to prepare for a new age of leadership

According to Steve Wainwright, these three things will help you prepare for a new age of leadership. 

Reading time: 5m 30s.

American political activist, author, and several time presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, once said, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” It’s a sentiment that many organisations often neglect when thinking about their training programmes.

Too often, leadership training is ad-hoc, out of touch, and doesn’t focus on nurturing the types of leaders businesses really need. Worst of all, leadership training often only targets those already in senior positions. 

Leadership training should be seen as a key enabler of business strategy for any organisation, but often there is a significant disparity between the investment made, and the outcome achieved. As organisations continue to place more focus on digital transformation, poorly executed leadership training will become an increasingly potent barrier to success.

The leadership our future companies will require is not an individual at the top who knows how to give orders, but a way of thinking and behaving – collaboratively, dynamically, creatively and cooperatively – and these are skills every employee will need in their toolkit.

Leadership training should be seen as a key enabler of business strategy for any organisation, but often there is a significant disparity between the investment made, and the outcome achieved.

Organisations need to cultivate leadership skills across all positions and levels. This often requires changing how training is delivered. The aim should be shaping how people think and behave to build more agile teams where everyone has the opportunity and skills necessary to take a leadership role should the opportunity arise. 

L&D teams should look at this as an ongoing culture shift within their organisation. There are three key aspects that will have an important long-term impact on leadership development and that support the goal of making every employee a potential leader:

Cultivate future skills

Skills requirements across an organisation are never static. The World Economic Forum’s Future Jobs Report 2018 predicts that by 2022, 27% of job roles across all industries will be completely new – many of which are already emerging.

Almost the same proportion (21%) of the job roles currently deployed in organisations today will be redundant by 2022, and while this presents a counter balance of job loss and creation, the emergence of new professions requires new types of leaders.  


The World Economic Forum identifies complex problem solving, critical thinking, coordinating with others, creativity and emotional intelligence as some of the core competencies businesses of the future will rely on.

Training in these ‘softer’ behavioural skills should already be universal within businesses, enabling employees to better adapt to technological change and develop the skills required to perform as successful leaders of the future. 

Democratise leadership

Ensuring everyone has access to leadership development training helps the potential leaders for tomorrow become great leaders evolve and meet challenges as they arise. Towards Maturity and Skillsoft found that the top 10% of organisations with the most effective learning strategies actively seek to democratise leadership by engaging a wider audience with leadership programmes.

This creates a learner-centric approach to leadership training, and ensures the organisation can select the best candidates for leadership roles – wherever they are in the business – and provides a huge talent pool of potential leaders ready to take charge at the moment of need.     

Blend leadership programmes

Leadership development programmes differ dramatically across industries and organisations, but the impact of technology has become increasingly evident. 80% of high-performing learning organisations now incorporate technology to future-proof their leadership development experience.

Those that place a heavy emphasis on classroom courses do not ‘reach’ learners frequently enough, and focus more on compliance than learners’ needs. In an age where virtually anything can be done from a mobile device, this approach is outdated and unnecessary.  

The future of learning is personalised and real-time. It uses technology to extend reach and offers a blended approach to leadership training. Providing access to leadership learning tools on tablets and smartphones in bite-sized ‘micro-learning’ chunks means learners are more likely to engage with training when it suits them, and ensures learning is continuous.

The blended approach means the number of people who can access leadership development is higher and democratises leadership by providing more individuals with an opportunity to build and regularly improve their leadership capabilities.  

Organisations that focus on learner-centric training blends and successfully democratise access to leadership programmes are far more likely to encourage learners to take responsibility for their personal development.

Providing clear access and information on learning opportunities will ensure everyone has the skills to lead and navigate change. It’s time to rethink how we prepare for the future. The first step is looking at the skills we need for success and the individuals with the talent and resources to deliver it.


About the author

Steve Wainwright is managing director EMEA at Skillsoft.


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