When we think about Leadership Development (LD), especially the large organisations invest in huge LD programs, spending high efforts in terms of money for setup and execution and time for the participants. Core of these programs are often classroom sessions of 6-8 days, garnished with some fireside-chats, practical exercises or application practices in-between the different modules. Don’t get me wrong: In some situations these are very useful settings, especially when doing some basics for young and unexperienced managers, who are new in their role. But in todays business context, where there is fast pace, continuous change and increasing complexity and uncertainty, LD needs to be widely re-thought, based on the learnings we had over the last decades, based on the current needs and topics and based on the new possibilities technology offers.

I work with several companies on that topic and also wrote some other articles about this already: „It’s time for new ways in Leadership Development“ and „Leadership Development in the age of digitalisation„. Today in this article I want to focus on some thoughts about the classroom aspects of LD programs.

There is the well known 70-20-10 principle of good LD settings, which says about a perfect setting, that 70% of the learning is “on-the-job”, 20% is “near-the-job” learning via communication and peers and 10% is “off-the-job” learning via classroom trainings, eLearning, books.

Having this said and considering, that the biggest challenge is still the transfer of the classroom experience to the daily business and the leadership behaviour in real life, I wonder why often 90% of the energy is still spent on the 10% pile. The 20 and 70% pile is often not very structured and supported by HR in everyday business. In addition, we also know from research studies, that the context, like the organisational setup, the peers and the team or even the area of responsibility is much more relevant to the performance of a manager than his or her individual skills and competencies as a leader. Some authors go even further, stating that there is no evidence at all, that leadership behaviour of individuals can be linked to an organisation’s performance and success. (Lakomski, 2005)

I do not want to go that far here. But if we agree, that a significant part of the success in leadership does NOT come from the individual skills of a person, but from the interaction and communication and the context the person is acting in, (which we know from system theory and modern psychology), a simple conclusion might be, that practicing and working in real teams and network structures of people is much more effective and efficient than training the leadership skills of some individuals. But what does this finally mean for the future of LD? Here are some of my thoughts and design principles for Leadership Development Programs of the Next Generation:

  • On individual level, I think that leadership development programs should go away from leadership models and context-free exercises, focussing more on meta-competencies, like practicing focus, mindfulness, resilience, reflectiveness, observation, etc. (This topic is worth another full article, maybe in the future…) Additionally specific skills can be also trained more a more by curated platforms of publicly available media from business schools and other sources instead of physical training settings.
  • Another aspect that needs to be build into Next Generation LD programs is the systematic application and practice of leadership skills in real teams. This means, that courses should be done directly for real teams including their managers, instead of developing the managers leading teams. The same should be done for management teams (peers of managers leading teams and working together as a management team). This can be realised by a “leaders teaching leaders” approach or by external facilitators, depending on the situation.
  • The last aspect that should be more emphasised, is the development of the leaders community across the whole organisation. Often this is done already implicitly in most of the current LD programs, by doing classroom trainings with mixed participants across functions and levels. Unfortunately this approach often does not reach it’s full potential, because it is not done by intention and not in a very structured way. What is important here is, that the leaders community is able to address very concrete topics or issues from the actual business or leadership situation, is it a current post-merger activity or a market disruption that needs joint action. The community can work on these topics, or if there is no such topic available, the community can discuss and work on joint principles, rules, guidelines, practices that should be spread around the whole organization. To make sure to have a high efficiency and effectiveness in these gatherings, the moderation should be done by external facilitators or internal HR expert/ experienced facilitator.

Over the last years, the business environment has changed a lot, driven by the beginning of digital revolution and the real globalisation of business activities. This had and will still have a huge impact not just on products and customer related activities, but also on the needed “operating systems” for our organisations. Often organisations are still running version 1.0 from the age of industrialisation or 2.0 from the age of strategic management in the 80ies and 90ies. Some organisations are currently “already upgrading” or need some ideas and inspiration on how to upgrade. (BTW: This is also the reason why I founded and lead the xm-institute as a chief researcher, a platform for “ideas on management & leadership in the next society” (www.xm-institute.com). We do applied research with organizations and bring together experienced leaders with your professionals, start-up founders and entrepreneurs with pragmatic scientists and thinkers.) Beside the understanding new technologies, the main key part of the needed “operating system upgrade” for organisations is about the human side. And this is driven mainly by the continuous and well designed development of leaders and employees in general.


Lakomski, G., Managing without leadership, Elsevier Oxford 2005.

Article also published on linkedIn, 5.6.2017