Leadership Development in 2024:

5 Ways to Rethink How We Equip Leaders

By: Andrea Butcher, CEO

It’s time to rethink leadership development. As Albert Einstein famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” We can’t expect traditional approaches to leadership development to serve leaders’ needs today—workforce expectations have changed significantly and within this shift is a new set of expectations for leaders. 

According to Gartner, leader and manager development is the top priority for CHROs in 2024, and instead of offering up the same old programs (unless we have evidence of their value), it’s important to recognize what leaders need. It’s no surprise that leaders are struggling in this post-pandemic world. Managing a remote or hybrid workforce, navigating life disruptions, enhancing the employee experience, and pressing into employee wellness are common leadership challenges that require muscles that have historically been underused or deprioritized.

76% of HR leaders say that leaders are overwhelmed by growing job responsibilities and 73% say that leaders aren’t equipped to lead change (Gartner). As the expectations placed on leaders increase, leadership stress intensifies, so burnout among leaders is prevalent. And think about it—of course, leaders aren’t going to navigate change well when they are under tremendous pressure and stress—it’s like asking someone to run a marathon when they aren’t feeling well.

So, what DO leaders need? Certainly, they do not need (or want) a traditional “leadership training” workshop. That’s the last thing on their very full minds—to sit in a class and listen to an instructor drone on about concepts to improve their leadership. Instead, the organization’s role is to provide space for leaders to regroup, renew, refocus, and build the necessary skills on their terms.

To meet the needs of today’s leaders, we must approach leadership development with fresh eyes. After all, we can’t solve new problems with old solutions.

So, what CAN we do to best equip leaders to actually lead today’s challenges?

1.      Meet leaders where they are—in the struggle.

Acknowledge that leadership is hard. Don’t sugarcoat the challenge by dressing it up as a great opportunity. Validate the struggle in conversations with leaders and in any marketing for leadership development.

2.     Approach leadership development as a growth experience, not as training.

My puppy participated in a full-week training program to learn to sit, not jump on the furniture, and walk next to us rather than drag us along. He needed to be trained, but the leaders in your business do not. Instead, they need a safe place to let their guard down—a safe place to grow. After all, we can’t separate our growth as human beings from our growth as leaders. We are continually evolving and growing, so by creating a structured growth experience, and tracking growth over time, we formalize the very natural process of learning more about ourselves, trying new things, and adapting our behaviors to meet the needs of the people we serve.

3.     Recognize that leadership development is SELF development.

We lead from the essence of who we are as people—a leader’s experiences, beliefs, natural style, and other unique attributes drive choices made every day. Leadership starts within; it’s all about what’s happening within the leader, so that is where we must focus. The best growth experiences peel back the layers, expose the leader to new aspects of themselves, and create opportunities to learn more.

4.     Ensure leader willingness—don’t develop for development’s sake.

As the old adage goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Willingness and timing are key. When leading through a personal challenge, I resisted working with a therapist for several months—the time wasn’t right and then it was. It was only when I was willing to engage and do the work that I benefited from focused therapy, and the same goes for leadership development. Requiring leadership development as a mandatory experience because “they need it” is futile and a waste of time for many. Instead, ensure that leadership development is driven by the leader(s)—only when they are ready and willing to engage and commit to the work.

5.     Tell the truth—provide ongoing accountability.

When the timing is right and leaders are willing to engage in a growth experience, the truth about their leadership and their impact is a great starting point. Assessment data and focused feedback from trusted stakeholders can be the key to new learning as leaders confront blind spots or areas where they lack awareness. And throughout the growth experience, it’s important to continue to hold up the mirror, to challenge when commitment seems to be waning, and to check in on progress. During my marathon training, I got out of bed on cold mornings because my training partner was waiting for me at the corner. According to ATD research, when we’ve made an accountability appointment with someone, are odds of accomplishing our goal increase by 95%--accountability is a critical part of the growth process, so ensure to bake it in throughout the experience.

By meeting leaders where they are, approaching development as a growth experience focused on “self,” and baking in accountability, we set leaders up for success and maximize our development efforts in the process. 

Here’s to leadership growth in 2024 and beyond!


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