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Why Leadership Development needs to change in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world

A recent White Paper by Nick Petrie from the Centre for Creative Leadership argues that today’s Leadership Development programmes are no longer fit for purpose. It identifies 4 trends that help define what Leadership Development needs to look like in an increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

VUCAThe origin of this report stems largely from Petrie’s own doubts about the methods he and his colleagues had used in the past to develop leaders in organisations. Though the feedback from managers was that they were happy with the programmes, his sense was that somehow, what was being delivered was not what they really needed.

“In the agricultural era, schools mirrored a garden.
In the industrial era, classes mirrored the factory, with an assembly line of learners.
In the digital-information era, how will learning look?”
Lucy Dinwiddie, Global Learning & Executive Development Leader, General Electric

These continual, nagging doubts led Petrie to take a one-year sabbatical at Harvard University with the goal of answering one question–what will the future of leadership development look like?

Trend 1: Increased Focus on Vertical Development (Developmental Stages)
Research interview question: What do you think needs to be stopped or phased out from the way leadership development is currently done?
Research answer: Competencies and static competency models, especially for senior managers.

Trend 2: Transfer of Greater Developmental Ownership to the Individual
Interview question: What should be stopped or phased out in leadership development?
Research answer: Stop sending people to courses they don’t want to go to.

Trend 3: The decline of the heroic leader–the rise of collective leadership
Research answer: We are approaching the end of an era dominated by individual leaders and the beginning of another, which embraces networks of leadership.

Trend 4: A new era of innovation in leadership development
Research answer: L&D innovators will need to look to find partners within and outside of their organizations who they can join with to create prototypes that push the boundaries of the existing practices.

Petrie ends by saying: “For any of us who might feel disheartened by the size of our challenges, we can take heart from the fact that, like most future leadership challenges, we don’t have the solutions because there are no solutions (yet). The answers will not be found in a report (even a good one) but discovered along the way on the messy path of innovation. And while I like the thought that we will make our breakthroughs through the exciting metaphor of the heat-seeking missile, I fear that it will be the “drunken man stumble” for us all. And though not elegant, it’s at least comforting to know that the most important skill needed is the will to take another step forward. I offer this report as the first of many steps.

Read the full paper (pdf) here White Paper by Nick Petrie from the Centre for Creative Leadership.

View my Slideshare presentation on Management Skills for a VUCA World.













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