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Organizations today are working hard to develop a core group of leaders needed to carry them into the future. With goals and expectations shifting rapidly in the dynamic global economy, it’s more important than ever for leadership development training to match the demands of the moment while still anticipating the challenges of tomorrow.

Although companies face many challenges in evaluating and developing leadership practices that support their unique culture and goals, a number of key trends loom large in 2018. By incorporating these practices into their development programs, organizations can better prepare leadership candidates for the challenges they will surely face going forward.

Flattening Organizations

The 2017 Mercer Global Talent Trends Report revealed that a staggering 93% of sampled companies have prioritized organizational restructuring for the upcoming year. Most of these changes aim to flatten organizations, making them less hierarchical and decentralizing decision making.

Flatter organizations disperse both expertise and knowledge across a much broader base than most leaders are used to managing. Traditional management structure allowed information to flow up to decision makers in a neatly distilled form, but technological developments have revolutionized the way organizations communicate. It is now possible for leaders to interact directly with subject matter experts without the cumbersome hierarchies of the past.

On one hand, this allows decisions to be made much faster since there is little standing between employees and decision makers. But it also means that leaders can no longer be expected to know everything. In the fast-paced modern economy, there is simply too much information for any one person to absorb. Leaders may have been expected to be the prime movers of innovation in the past, but now they’re being asked to inspire and empower.

With team members scattered across the globe and making the most of their unique skills, effective leadership is less about providing expertise and more about finding ways to motivate and equip their people to achieve the company’s goals. The new model of leadership, then, is less about having “know how” and more about articulating a compelling vision that brings everyone together in pursuit of a common goal.

Focus on Developing “People”, not “Employees”

Recent research has shown that many employees feel development programs are something “done to them, not for them”. Organizations have known for some time that it’s important to listen to their employees, but very few of them have a clear idea of how to take action to address their concerns. This lack of action further contributes to uncertainty among employees and the notion that management doesn’t care about them.

These concerns extend to leadership positions as well. Newly elevated managers often lack the “soft skills” necessary to do their jobs effectively, and 47% of them receive no training whatsoever for their new roles. Despite the importance of coaching and advising employees in today’s workplace, 93% of managers believe they need more training in this area. Given those figures, it’s no wonder that so many employees feel ignored and undervalued.

Companies are trying to address these problem with purpose-driven leadership development that emphasizes values and personal connections. By providing leaders with the support they need to identify how their work aligns with their values and goals, organizations can create a foundation that empowers leaders to do the same for their team members.

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Adopting a more “people-centric” approach that takes the unique characteristics of individuals into account helps to make them feel valued and empowered. Effective leaders can utilize critical “soft skills” such as emotional intelligence and active listening to identify the best strategies for motivating their team members and giving them the tools for success. When employees trust leadership to support them and understand their needs, they become more engaged and effective.

Embrace a Blended Learning Approach

The days of costly off-site training programs are coming to an end as more and more organizations rethink their approaches to learning and development. With up to 90% of what employees learn about their jobs coming from the workplace itself, it no longer makes sense to invest valuable time and money into impersonal, classroom-oriented development.

Adult learning theory principles, which place a premium on experiential learning and the needs of the learner, can be effectively integrated with multimedia resources to provide targeted, on-demand training that employees can utilize when and where they need it most. This approach also allows training to be spread over a longer period of time rather than compressing it into a single moment when it might not be helpful to an employee.

While traditional in-person training sessions still have their place, they should be catered to the comprehensive needs of an organization to avoid feeling like a “problem of the month” meeting. Furthermore, these sessions should always be accompanied by self-directed learning (SDL) resources optimized for the learning styles of the participants. Text, audio, and video resources that support the training goals should be made available, which places some responsibility for ongoing learning on employees.

With the amount of resources dedicated to training and development efforts, organizations need to identify strategies that consistently deliver the highest ROI. By empowering employees to take the initiative with a wide range of eLearning technologies, they can eliminate the risky “all or nothing” burden of expensive off-site training programs and ensure that valuable development takes place in the most productive environment.

Identifying and nurturing leadership candidates is a challenging process that requires organizations to maintain a clear idea of how leaders help to achieve their stated goals. As the nature of the workplace continues to be transformed by technological change, it is incumbent upon leadership development plans to reflect the workplace as it is and will be, not as it once was. The flattening of organizational structure has fundamentally altered the relationship between leaders and the employees they manage. If leadership training does not take this change into account, companies will continue to struggle with unengaged and difficult to retain employees. By rethinking outdated approaches to ongoing education and training, however, organizations can empower their employees and inspire them to fulfill goals more aligned with their values.

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