Is Leadership Development fit for Purpose in 2015?


22 May 2015


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Analysis of a CRF project

Are leadership development courses hitting the mark? Is your organisation getting value for money? Are the courses you’re buying really delivering impactful learning or simply providing employees with a ‘nice’ day out of the office? Is leadership development fit for purpose in 2015?

These are the big questions tackled by a year-long CRF research project, the findings of which were presented at their most recent event. One event we certainly did not want to miss. So what did we learn from attending? Well, the good news was our research has kept us right on track, ensuring our approach has not stood still in the stream of change but gone with it.


Critically, the two key take home messages from the day were as follows:

1. Leadership requirements have changed dramatically over recent years and how we develop our leader’s needs to reflect this

2. Understanding of how adults learn most effectively has become increasingly sophisticated as research on the topic has accumulated. To be truly fit for purpose programs need to be capitalising on this knowledge.

Changing Requirements  

Over the past 20 years the leadership development industry has grown exponentially, with annual spending on the area now over $50bn. However, as the CRF event highlighted, what organisations require from leaders has also changed dramatically in this time. 

Today’s world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) and as such organisations need leaders who are:

  • Self-aware - understand their current strengths and weakness, their cognitive biases, and how to create their own authentic, but effective, style of leadership
  • Ambidextrous - able to balance innovation while simultaneously optimising existing revenue streams
  • Able to lead through collaboration - skilled at aligning others around a shared purpose, inspiring employees to achieve more together than they could alone
  • Comfortable leading through uncertainty - willing and able to face the volatile markets, despite reduced line of sight to future problems
  • Able to build innovative cultures - create an environment where people want to work, have the freedom to be curious and can perform to the highest standard
  • High in resilience - cannot only survive the VUCA world but thrive within it  

Understanding How Adults Learn

While all the above characteristics are important in the future, the CRF event mainly emphasised the importance of having leaders who are agile learners. Accordingly, the event called into question whether today’s leadership development programs really are optimising on what research has revealed about how adults learn best.

Specifically, the CRF event highlighted the following research findings around adult learning:

  • Requires purpose and experience -adults need to know why they are learning something and learn mostly through doing
  • Needs to be ‘grippingly relevant’ - adults learn most when they can make meaning of subjects in ways that are immediately relevant to their day-to-day lives
  • Approaches that engage multiple senses are likely to lead to better learning
  • Teaching learners about how the brain works helps them to consciously adopt effective strategies
  • Reflection is key – neuroscience has shown that the brain needs time and space to embed learning


At Lane4, we believe that understanding human behaviour and neuroscience should be at the centre of leadership development. Organisation need to not so much strive to create development courses but learning environments. Doing this, while using relevant experiences and interactive methods, will ensure that learning is embedded effectively both on the day and over time back in peoples day to day roles.

On reflection, it is time that organisations start to look at how they are running their current development programmes. They need to consider if they’re really set up to encourage learning and behaviour change. They need to consider if they’re still fit for purpose in 2015.

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