Leadership development has come to the point of being too individually focused and elitist

 VUCA World

It is beyond doubt, and every Leader is thoroughly aware that they live in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) where things that were once certain, no longer are, and where our healthy way of doing business, making products, marketing and leading are all under siege. In stable environments, optimizing performance around current needs leads to success. However, in VUCA environments, it’s different. Sustainable success requires sub-optimizing current performance and investing in robust strategies that increase flexibility and adaptability to enhance future performance. In some cases, that means stepping back to grow, starting again, or approaching situations with a beginner’s mindset.


Leaders understand that they need assistance through Coaching in navigating this complex, challenging, and often unknown territory of the future.

Changing times – Coach as a Developmental Guide

It is no longer just a leadership challenge (what good leadership looks like); it is a development challenge (the process of how to Grow “bigger” minds).

Today’s leaders have become experts on the “what” of leadership, however, are novices in the “how” of their development. As a Coach; I believe, by a mere transfer of greater developmental ownership to the individual leader develop faster, and they even feel responsible for their progress. However, the current model encourages people to believe that someone else is responsible for their development–be it the human resources department, their immediate manager, or trainers. We will need to help leaders out of the passenger seat and into the driver’s seat of their development.

Future lies in collective rather than individual leadership 

Leadership development has come to the point of being too individually focused and elitist. There is a transition occurring from the old paradigm in which leadership resided in a person or role, to a new one in which leadership is a collective process that is spread throughout networks of people. The question will change from, “Who are the leaders?” to “What conditions do we need for leadership to flourish in the network?” How do we spread leadership capacity throughout the organization and democratize leadership?

Four Transitions for Leadership Development

Current Focus Future Focus
The “What” of Leadership The “What” and “How” of Development
Horizontal Development Horizontal and Vertical Development
HR/Learning & Development Dept. own Development Individual Leader owns Development
Leadership reside in Individual Managers Collective Leadership is spread throughout the network

*Future Trends – CCL.org

The methods for horizontal development are very different from those for vertical development.  Horizontal development can be learned (from an expert), but vertical development must be earned (for yourself).

Coaching in the Changing times

As in the changing times, a major part of coaching goes in helping leaders develop how they think. How they get to an answer matters more than ever. Future coaching would be focusing more on vertical development; it can be divided into a three-step process:

1. Awakening the Leader: The leader becomes aware that there is a different way of making sense of the world and that doing things in a new approach is possible.

2. Helping to Unlearn and discern: The old assumptions are analyzed and challenged. New hypotheses are tested out and experimented with as being new possibilities for one’s day-to-day work and life.

3. Help them Advance: Occurs after some practice and effort when new ideas get stronger and start to dominate the previous ones. The new level of development (leadership logic) starts to make more sense than the old one.

Transitioning to Collective Leadership from Individual leadership

The story of the last 50 years of leadership development has been the story of the individual. It began with discoveries about “what” made a good leader and was followed by the development of practices that helped a generation of individuals move closer to that ideal. The workplace context rewarded individuals who could think through a situation analytically and then direct others to carry out well-thought-through procedures. Leadership was not easy, but the process itself was comparatively clear.

However, in the last 15 years, this model has become less effective, as the “fit” between the challenges of the environment and the ability of the heroic individuals to solve them has started to diverge. Instead, adaptive challenges call for collaboration between various stakeholders who each hold a different aspect of reality, and many of whom must themselves adapt and grow if the problem is to be solved. These collectives, who often cross geographies, reporting lines, and organizations, need to share information collaboratively, create plans, influence each other and make decisions.

All in all, leadership is bound to change radically shortly. With many leaders feeling unprepared for the economy around them, future leadership coaching programs should aim and strive to provide help aimed at developing skills for addressing problems arising from economic globalization and current leadership gaps.

Coaching the Future Leader should focus on helping them to:

  • Understand the core functions of leadership and management from planning to vital people skills such as motivation, effective communication, and driving engagement. Crucially, the key to being a successful manager will know how to apply these skills in the changing workplace.
  • Acclimatize with the increase of flexible working; leaders must trust their subordinates and learn to measure performance on outcome rather than hours worked. Relationship management and collaboration will be central to how organizations operate in the future. Managers at all levels, therefore, must be able to build and manage quality two-way relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, and other partners. This will require top-notch communication skills and a mastery of the channels available to them.
  • Future leaders must be not only Agile and adaptive but also reliable and trustworthy. Leaders should be emotionally intelligent as the qualities that embody this will be required in all aspects of management whether it is engaging and motivating teams or building successful working relationships and partnerships. They should also be prepared to actively encourage and support their subordinates increasing desire to improve their employability.

Coaching – Way forward

Experience is the best teacher. In the future, executive coaching will move from explaining to experiencing. Leaders will desire to learn in a format that is memorable and fun. Executive individualization will drive breakthrough thinking and new information based on what experience the executive needs to achieve new patterns of action.

Content over Process:

Asking insightful questions to help people achieve their goals will always be central to good coaching. However, it is insufficient. We will see more operators with deep industry or leadership experience serve as coaches. The demand for “been there, seen that, done that” coaches will continue to rise, as they are better positioned to help leaders look around the corners.

Coaching going Digital

As our culture changes, so will the delivery methods of coaches to clientele. The days of in-person coaching are dwindling. Webinars, online training, and digital coaching delivery methods for clients will become the norm. Professionals will want coaching that is easily accessible and fits into their schedule.

Awakening the Self

As a Coach, I would like to define “self” is more akin to a container and not so much as a definitive definition.  By self, I mean the different behaviors, skills, strengths, values, attitudes, beliefs all present within a single person. Becoming aware of this self and then working on it is what has much weight in the future over the present.  Executive coaching essentially works on this ‘self’, uncovering the various facets and helping the coachee reinforce or redirect.


To conclude, as the leadership is changing so as the Coaching needs to change. I feel coaches need to disrupt themselves, and not be complacent, using the same techniques, methods, and thinking patterns that made it successful in the past.  Help, leaders, to center their learning and development around verticalization and help them in a mindset shift towards Collective Leadership from Individual Leadership.  Last but not least; help them transition from “What” of the Leadership to “how” of their development and helping them own their development.

Published in Business World on 27th Oct’18