A rapid change in the form of remote work, the infusion of technology in nearly every job, and a massive generational handoff have necessitated a fundamental rethinking of the way we develop leadership skills. In fact, it is why we’ve identified the new leadership superpowers, which are laid out in Chapter 11 of The Leadership Decade: A Playbook for an Extraordinary Era.

To show how much things have changed in our work culture in a half-century, consider the Harvard Business Review classic, “Who’s Got the Monkey,” which was originally written in 1974. If you’re not familiar with it, the parable tells of a manager who delegates tasks to subordinates, only to have the to-do’s come back to the manager. “Monkey management” requires managerial discipline to ensure that subordinates cannot delegate tasks back to the manager. The piece remains a classic because its core idea—that managers can break the habit of taking back tasks unnecessarily (or, in our words, falling down the Role Mindset staircase)—continues to ring true. What has changed is how organizations distribute work and how little of what needs to get done involves top-down, linear reporting relationships.

Despite this seismic shift, leadership development approaches have largely stagnated, informed by research from the 20th century. According to Deborah Rowland, leadership development researcher and author of Sustaining Change: Leadership that Works, the “vast majority of leadership programs are set curricula delivered through classroom-taught, rationally based…methods.” Despite more than a century of progress in how we work, outdated philosophies continue to hold back how we develop leaders. Only 42% of workers believe that the quality of their leadership is high. A lot of money is being spent on leadership training—more than $366 billion annually—for results that are worse than a coin flip in quality. Despite the grand total of the spending, this amounts to less than $5000 per person per year for most companies.

If traditional leadership development approaches don’t meet the need, then what does?

The Leadership Training Industry Data

Global corporate training spending has been steadily increasing over the past several years, with a total spend of $366.2 billion in 2018. The leadership training market is one of the only learning and development markets that has experienced growth independent of economic trends year after year.

According to 2018 survey data, 8% of organizations spend more than $10,000 per year per person on leadership development, 6% spend between $7,000 and $10,000. The majority of organizations (68%) spend less than $4,000 per year. These numbers are nearly identical to spending levels in 2016.

The Challenge for Next Leaders

When did you last look at your job description? Do you even have one? If you do, two things are likely. The first is that the last bullet point includes the phrase, “other duties as assigned.” The second is that an ever-increasing percentage of your time is devoted to those other duties.

The implication for next leaders is profound. There is no tried-and-true model for leading in this new context. Experienced colleagues and mentors tend to be most comfortable with models of leadership that no longer apply. When surveyed, Baby Boomer leaders believed that the skills that most need to be part of a leadership development course include efficiency and business decision-making. Millennials, on the other hand, want leaders who have strong emotional intelligence.

With the need to transfer knowledge and prepare a new generation of leaders in organizations, the elusiveness of what it means to be a leader now and in the future makes the transition even more challenging. For instance, the World Economic Forum expects that robots will replace up to 800 million workers worldwide by 2030.  The jobs that won’t be replaced, according to McKinsey, “are those that involve managing and developing people, or that apply expertise to decision making, planning, or creative work.” Maybe Baby Boomers and Millennials are both onto something.

A Need For Change

There’s a fundamental disconnect in how corporate cultures implement leadership development today. Models currently used are insufficiently responsive to changing work dynamics. They create a false sense of confidence and do not connect to the central organizational objective. They also lack a structure to provide the feedback that can help candidates overcome potentially career-limiting tendencies. Given the speed with which next leaders must step into higher-level roles, you cannot afford to continue to develop your people using obsolete methods.


Adapted from our best-selling book, The Leadership Decade: A Playbook for an Extraordinary Era. If you’d like to purchase a copy, please visit s21.us/tldbook for a hardback book or s21.us/tldebook for an ebook. For even more information, check out theleadershipdecade.com.