The new paradigm in leadership development


Personalization matters — now more than ever. Take marketing, for instance. It’s well known that as consumers, we want the market to know us, really know us; our preferences, needs and unique desires. Companies take great pains to demonstrate they understand and care about us. Likewise, the field of medicine has shifted toward a more personalized approach. Research findings no longer dictate a universal mode of care for every individual, and a patient’s genetic profile is frequently used to tailor therapies.

Similarly, personalization is now emerging in the learning and talent development space as leader development embraces a holistic approach — to meet each leader where they are. 

When development is tailored to an individual leader’s needs, they can transform in a holistic way — in body, mind, emotions and spirit. To serve that end, leader development experiences are becoming more personalized, holistic, multimodal and ubiquitous — all at the same time. And technology is enabling that shift to occur accessibly at scale.

We call it “Leadership 2.0.”

The oft-cited leadership development model of 70/20/10 has been around since the 1980s,  helping us to describe how leaders grow. Today, it’s all of that — and much more.

Intuitively, we know developing as a leader is not merely a technical exercise of acquiring new knowledge and skills. Leadership is a fundamentally human endeavor. And it’s complex. Each leader’s capacity to be effective is informed by the totality of who they are, including their history, skills, beliefs, stories, training, experiences, temperament, fears and aspirations. To grow as a leader requires nothing less than transformation from the inside out. That journey will be different for each person embarking on it, requiring a holistic and personalized approach.

We recently spoke with a leader who was being promoted to director for the first time. We’ll call her Liana. She’d been very successful as a manager. She knew her stuff. She could name the typical challenges of taking on this level of responsibility, such as leading people who had been her peers, becoming more strategic in her thinking and communications and championing her team. But what was unique for Liana was her introverted nature, which made managing the organization draining for her. Liana told us she was excited about the opportunity. And scared. She wanted a coach who could help her manage her energy as she found a way to be both inspiring and authentic as a leader. This is not a one-size-fits-all development path.

Many organizations will leave it to chance that their “Lianas” will figure it out. That may work. But with up to 60 percent of new managers failing, it’s a risk. Plus, trial and error can take a long time and cause suffering for leaders and their teams. Other organizations might offer training around the Top 10 Managerial Skills. Helpful, to be sure. But to truly to grow into a new role requires a transformation of sensemaking, self-awareness, habits and leadership presence.

An alternative is to bring a holistic approach to L&D, building skills and mindsets for a variety of environments and contexts, and equipping leaders with a whole-person experience. So, what would a holistic and personalized development approach look like for Liana, or any leader? It would meet them where they are by providing: 

  • Personalization. Making space for each leader’s unique talent, mindset, ability to manage complexity, values, emotional intelligence, vision, social drivers and sense of purpose. 
  • Individualized context. Identifying which needle is most critical to move in each leader’s context, thus creating personal buy-in for the hard work of personal change. 
  • Connection. Having others on the learning journey — whether a coach, cohort peer, or team member — which deepens belonging, builds emotional intelligence and fosters a safe space and accountability for growth. 
  • Experimentation. Turning day-to-day experiences, challenges and successes into a laboratory for learning over time. 
  • Content. Providing just-in-time learning content that addresses specific real-time needs to learn in the flow of work. 

Envision your company’s holistic approach to development 

A holistic learning experience that creates an opportunity to connect, learn and grow in the context of the organization can incorporate numerous modalities. These elements can be blended in myriad of ways to support a whole-person approach to leadership development. The key is to design experiences that offer each individual the elements noted above. 

Possible elements of a holistic program are:

  • One-on-one coaching. By definition, one-on-one individualized coaching is tailored to each leader’s unique needs. This highly personalized approach meets each leader where they are and creates the perfect confidential environment for a transformational experience that is holistic by its very nature. While it requires more of an investment than many other modalities, tech-enabled one-on-one coaching has become more accessible than ever, and its ROI has been proven over and over again. 
  • Group coaching. Run by a coach or skilled facilitator, these more intimate group experiences turn the work over to the group. Facilitators share relevant content or challenges and allow the group to problem-solve, self-regulate and hold each other accountable. This modality deepens connection and nurtures a strong culture. It can be used for intact teams, or with same-level peers from different backgrounds and teams. 
  • Mentoring. Facilitating the alignment of leaders with mentors in an intentional relationship can be instrumental to a leader’s growth. Mentors bring insights into the organizational context. They aren’t trained to evoke transformational experiences, but leaders feel seen and cared for, which builds confidence and a sense of wellbeing. 
  • Assessments: Self-assessments or 360s help participants gain greater self-awareness around their strengths, blindspots and motivations. When debriefed by a skilled coach or facilitator, leaders are open to feedback and can identify the gaps between their intent and impact. The exercise can help them build the capacity to be vulnerable with others. When coupled with a coaching engagement or a peer group debrief, assessment data comes to life and can be powerfully actionable. 
  • Large group learning sessions. Traditional group workshops can be effective at delivering content that builds a common language around competencies, skills and concepts that match the organization’s objectives and values. When intentionally designed to support leaders in applying the learning to their role and circumstances, and engaging learners in vulnerable conversations, practice and self-reflection, cohort sessions can be powerful tools for development.

In addition, there are a growing number of tech-enabled habit and practice modalities that can be offered like an a la carte menu to support unique development requests. These include: 

  • Feedback loops. Engaging key stakeholders in targeted feedback to increase a leader’s self-awareness and build confidence in a new habit being practiced.
  • Libraries of learning content. Learning content, like that provided by Harvard Manage Mentor or LinkedIn Learning, can provide a foundational awareness that supports self-learners.
  • Simulations. Role-playing simulation programs support leaders who want to experiment with new behaviors, or practice a new skill.
  • Artificial intelligence. Chatbots can be used for quick questions, role play, check-ins and even coaching sessions. AI can help leaders perform a calendar audit, innovate, improve presentations, communication and much more. 
  • Nudges. Tech-generated reminders help leaders who are motivated by the gamification aspect of grooving new behaviors or building leadership habits. 

Technology enables L&D that is both personalized and scalable

Holistic leader development is a powerful approach to nurture leaders who will be engaged, loyal and drive the long-term success of your company. It’s worth investing in. And, for your carefully designed programs to have organizationwide impact, you’ll want them to be scalable across the many levels of leadership. Fortunately, just as we’ve seen with marketing and medicine, technology is now leveling the playing field for leaders as well, making personalized growth available to your organization at scale.


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