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The Future of Leadership Development

By Wilhelm Crous

The number of organisations and institutions (including consulting companies) offering leadership development programmes is soaring. Nevertheless, there’s a general feeling that corporate leadership is ‘coming up short’, particularly considering the new challenges of a digital, fast-paced world. And that’s despite billions of dollarsbeing spent annually on developing leaders.

Professors Moldoveanu (Rotman School of Management) and Narayandas (Harvard Business School) make the point that whereas companies are seeking the communicative, interpretive, affective and perceptual skills needed to lead coherent, proactive collaboration, most execute education programmes focus on discipline-based skills set, such as strategy development and financial analysis. They’re essentially just extensions of MBA programmes.

This problem is further aggravated by the fact that there’s a skills transfer gap. Too few executives take what they learn in the ‘classroom’ and apply it to their jobs. And the further removed the locus of learning is from the locus of application, the larger this gap becomes.

It takes no genius to realise this gap quickly demotivates newly-developed leaders.

So what’s the solution?

Moldoveanu and Narayandas believe the solution lies within a “personal learning cloud” (PLC). In other words, an assortment of online courses, social and interactive platforms, and learning tools from both traditional institutions and upstarts.

The PLC has been taking shape for about a decade. Its components include MOOCs (massive open online courses) and platforms such as Coursera, edX, and 2U for delivering interactive content online; corporate training and development ecosystems from LinkedIn, Skillsoft, Degreed, and Salesforce Trailhead, targeting quick, certifiable mastery of core skills in interactive environments; on-demand, solution-centric approaches to leadership development from the likes of McKinsey Solutions, McKinsey Academy, BCG Enablement, and DigitalBCG; and talent management platforms such as SmashFly, Yello, and Phenom People, which make it possible to connect learning needs and learner outcomes.

Organisations can select components from the personal learning cloud and tailor them to the needs and behaviours of individuals and teams. The PLC is flexible and immediately accessible, and it enables employees to pick up skills in the context in which they’ll be used.

It’s a 21st century form of on-the-job learning!

This offers a more time- and cost-efficient option for organisation and the application of newly acquired skills is immediate. The networked learning infrastructure has covered the marginal cost of setting up an in-house learning environment and has enabled CHROs to make better decisions about the right experiences for the people and teams in their organisations.

Moldoveanu and Narayandas make the point that as learning becomes personalised, socialised, and adaptive, and as organisations become more sophisticated at gauging the ROI in talent development, the industry is moving away from pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all material and instead returning to the PLC.

The PLC enables the fast, low-cost creation of corporate universities and in-house learning programmes in the same way that platforms such as Facebook and Instagram facilitate the formation of discussion groups. Moldoveanu and Narayandas believe that adopting a PLC platform will undoubtedly drive down fixed-costs and huge start-up investments for organisations, whilst also providing them with a wider, more fit-for-purpose range of L&D interventions.

For an interesting comparative overview of the landscape of executive education providers please click here.


Moldoveanu, M., & Narayandas, D. (2019, March-April). The Future of Leadership Development. Harvard Business Review, pp. 40-48.


If your organisation has a leadership development programme, or is looking to implement one, then make sure you don’t miss the Learning & Development Conference, taking place on 10 and 11 September. We’ll be hosting a Leadership and Executive Development Seminar/Track alongside the conference. This session can be attended by conference delegates or registered for separately.

Here are some of the topics that will be covered in this track:

  • The future of leadership development in the digital age

  • Can authenticity in leaders be developed?

  • Developing accountable leaders

  • Developing leadership core capabilities that drive adaptability, resilience and agility

  • Leadership development case studies

  • And more!

With speakers from leading organisations such as: LinkedIn, Mercedes Benz, Nedbank, Deutsche Telekom, Massmart, Unilever, McDonalds, Standard Bank, Exxaro, Media24, Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft – this is an event you won’t want to miss!

Click here to learn more.

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