How high performing organisations are closing the leadership capability gap

Steve Wainwright explores how companies are reaping rewards from their investment in leadership development.

Leadership development is vital to an organisation’s success, so it’s no surprise that a third of development budgets are focused on this area. But despite lavishing time and money on improving the capabilities of managers and nurturing new leaders, many organisations struggle to translate this investment into long-term and sustained performance gains – or an effective talent pipeline.

The Driving Leadership Capability report, which draws on data gleaned from L&D leaders and learners, highlights some key attributes and characteristics that define high impact programmes and deliver results.

Indeed, the gains generated are significant – 80% of the high performing organisations surveyed reported a 33% improvement in time to competency, a 17% increase in organisational productivity, an 11% reduction in staff turnover and an 11% increase in organisational revenue.

So, how are they doing it?

Democratising access to leadership development

Winning organisations proactively seek to engage a wider audience, leveraging learning technologies to initiate a learner-centric and flexible approach that enables a greater number people to participate in leadership development programmes.

To thrive and survive in today’s digital era, organisations need a strategy that instils a democratised approach to leadership development

To open up learning to a wider talent pool, high performing organisations are using a blended, technology-based learning approach that delivers foundational leadership mindsets and behaviours. These organisations are also significantly less likely to be reliant on classroom-only development programmes compared with those companies not using learning technologies to develop their leaders and managers.

Evaluating the gains, the findings reveal that those organisations successfully using learning technologies to develop leaders were more likely to:

  • Improve access to support at the point of need (30% vs non-users 9%)
  • Increase learning access and flexibility (67% vs non-users 36%)
  • Improve talent management (30% vs non-users 11%).

This all adds up to a more inclusive and flexible approach to leadership development, which: 

  • Allows more individuals to develop their leadership capabilities
  • Makes it easier to select the best candidates for leadership development
  • Enables the delivery of ‘on-the-go’ leadership programmes that do not disrupt workflows.

Initiating a culture of continuous workplace learning

The findings also reveal how organisations that build successful leadership capabilities are using technology substantially more than companies that do not in their leadership programme – initiating a co-learning culture that cascades throughout the enterprise.


Indeed, they’re more likely to use:

  • open education resources – 80% vs 59%
  • job aids – 78% vs 68%
  • communities of practice – 77% vs 39%
  • continuous learning platforms – 24% vs 13%

As a consequence, they’re more likely to have a culture of continuous learning in the workplace (77% vs 52%), have self-directed learning (36% vs 13%) and allow individuals to learn at places most convenient to them (55% vs 24%).

Addressing diversification barriers

When it comes to future-proofing the leadership development their organisation delivers, L&D leaders in all organisations (regardless of size, industry and region) acknowledged the importance of overcoming significant barriers when attempting to diversify learning delivery and introduce new technology-led approaches.

Topping the list of challenges encountered included a cultural bias towards classroom training (45%), and a reluctance to adopt new ways of learning, such as online, social and collaborative learning (41%).

More significant, however, was the admission that there is a lack of knowledge in L&D itself about the potential use of technology in leadership development (45%) together with a lack of skills to implement and manage technology-led learning (38%).


This is inhibiting the ability of many organisations to democratise access to learning and development resources, measure the impact and results of their management development efforts or identify potential leaders.

Aligning management learning and development efforts with organisational business needs

Finally, a key stand-out finding was how organisations that successfully leveraged their management development programmes to deliver lasting outcomes were more likely to be using learning technologies to develop leadership capabilities. 

They were also more likely to have developed an organisational learning strategy to pin point the ‘real shifts’ needed from leadership capability and measure these impacts to drive the business plan.

A significant 78% of those organisations using learning technologies confirmed they had a learning strategy in place, compared to just 44% of those not using technology in leadership development. 

Armed with a clear plan to strategically align management development with organisational strategies and objectives, these organisations are able to concentrate on delivering the right learning and development to the right people – clearly relating learning objectives to business objectives, identifying skills gaps and pain points along the way.

Driving leadership capability – some final observations

The research findings highlight how, for many organisations, there needs to be a fundamental change in how leadership programmes are designed and delivered. 

All too often programmes are too strongly skewed in favour of existing directors, leaders and managerial workers and lack any real focus on developing the leadership models that will best serve the enterprise’s current and future needs.

To thrive and survive in today’s digital era, organisations need a strategy that instils a democratised approach to leadership development, utilising a blended learning approach that’s learner centric and built around enabling the leadership qualities and capabilities that represent a best-fit with identified enterprise business goals.

Adapting learning approaches by incorporating technology to democratise access to leadership development is a critical first step in delivering on the promise of leadership development investments. 

Alongside delivering learning to a broader audience, these technologies deliver empirical evidence on which to construct best practice applications while making it possible to discover individuals and accelerate their path into managerial roles.

It’s a winning formula that’s clearly working well for high performing organisations.


About the author

Steve Wainwright, Managing Director EMEA at Skillsoft.


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