Leadership Trends That Are Reshaping How We Train Today’s Leaders

For many years, employee training and development was not viewed as something to embed throughout the organization from top to bottom. Leadership trends were such that training went to existing leaders moving up the corporate leadership ladder, employee training was devoted to specific hard skills training, and many employees promoted into entry-level supervisor positions were not prepared for the transition. 

Nowadays, a lot is happening in the leadership development and employee training arena. Driven by technology, the increased size of the remote worker population, new generations of workers, and advances in brain science, leadership trends are quickly becoming something an organization must look out for. The trends shaping leadership training continue to change, as most senior executives recognize the importance of developing leadership talent. 

However, leadership development efforts often aren’t connected to their business goals and strategies. This disconnect prevents organizations from identifying and enacting wise strategies. A custom leadership development strategy is needed to unleash the potential of individuals and groups throughout the organization if they are to achieve success. From getting your leaders all on the same page to creating true cultural change, here are many of the latest leadership training trends companies are including in their leadership development programs.

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Self-Paced & Synchronous eLearning

Perhaps at the forefront of leadership trends shaping the development of leadership training is the concept of self-paced and synchronous learning models. Self-paced eLearning enables employees to complete training modules and development courses online without the need for facilitator intervention. The participants can go through the instructional material on their own and at their own pace. In many parts of the business world, eLearning is available 24/7 via the internet or wireless, so individuals can choose to use a computer, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone.

Chris Craddock, Production Operations Manager at Projections, an IRI company, explains, “While face-to-face training is almost always preferred by the learner, it does present several challenges, especially in the areas of logistics and consistency. With an eLearning course, the training is always consistent and available 24/7, even on mobile devices, removing those barriers.”

At the same time, synchronous online facilitator-led training is offered in some cases. This form of training requires individuals and the facilitator to be online at the same time. It has the advantage of training multiple employees simultaneously, encouraging collaboration among coworkers (with the right technology), and allowing employees to ask questions as they arise and receive instant feedback

In-person + Online Learning  

The pace of offering online learning increased during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the requirements for remote workers, but face-to-face learning remains a constant leadership trend and viable option in the business world. The in-person learning experience provides some specific benefits. Marcey Uday-Riley, MSW, CPT, Senior Consultant, IRI Consultants, explains, “This addition of face-to-face facilitated experiences seems to be driven by a need for more hi-touch learning that includes more peer-learning, role-play and other processes that benefit from in-person environments.” 

Hybrid or blended learning is an option in which digital and face-to-face learning opportunities are integrated. Adding in-person learning extends digital learning or vice versa. 

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Smaller "Bites" of Micro-Learning 

“We are also seeing an expanded interest in 'smaller bites' of learning both with online and in-person deliveries, all of which need to have more of a “Netflix” quality,” says Uday-Riley. Smaller bites, what are often referred to as micro-bursts, of learning break up large blocks of information into smaller units. This new leadership trend for learning is highly focused content that concentrates on a single problem or topic, has a single learning objective, and contains the information needed for the employee to achieve the objective. 

People have a limited attention span today due to so many distractions, and technology usage is the main contributor. Your employees are used to going online or connecting via their smartphone, quickly getting information, and moving on to the next topic or problem. Within 15 years, the average person’s attention has declined from 12 seconds to 8 seconds.  This is why one of the latest trends shaping leadership training as of 2021 includes these smaller chunks of learning that are easily retained.

While most employer training courses require longer attention, they are supplemented with bite-sized, self-contained learning nuggets delivered to smartphones. Another new leadership trend is that training courses are designed to be entertaining to keep people’s attention. A good example is Projection’s eLearning safety training program developed for Trader Joe’s. It is interactive, has modular courses, and is engaging and humorous, which fits the Trader Joe’s brand. It also uses a combination of video, voice-over instruction, on-camera narration, and reinforcement techniques.

“Today eLearning can be engaging and even fun with interactive exercises. The compliance tracking leaves no doubt with HR/Leadership, just where someone is in their training path,” says Craddock. One of the advantages of approaching training in this manner is that eLearning is consistent training for all employees 

eLearning is consistent training for all employees, and gives you a clear idea where your employees are along their training path. #elearning #leadershiptraining #leadershipdevelopment

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Variety Improves The Leader Experience 

Another outstanding new leadership trend is to reinforce the leadership learning experience through different learning methods. Video lessons, interactive training, downloadable reference sheets, and expert videos call all give your leaders this opportunity. Many companies that provide leaders with a variety of resources on a single topic find improved retention, and a higher instance of implementation.

Because every learner (and every leader!) learns differently, offering variety improves their individual experience with the training. Providing a lecture-style session, as well as an entertaining video, connects with leader who prefer to watch and learn. Downloadable reference materials are perfect for the many leaders who take action best by reading and reflecting. If you’re also able to provide interactivity in the form of quizzes, leaders are rewarded with valuable feedback that aids in implementation.

One-on-One Coaching

One-on-one employee coaching is a process for equipping people with the knowledge and opportunities to become their best selves and contribute their talents for personal and business success. It is primarily used for leadership development but is generally not a learning process for training management skills, like supervising people or assessing performance skills.  

One-on-one coaching is a leadership trend that is emerging as a strong learning alternative for those who are experiencing leadership challenges in a new or existing role or who are being considered for or who have been recently promoted to a higher level. The focus is on removing roadblocks to employee development, achievement, and performance. It promotes creativity and resilience; two critical leadership qualities organizations need in their leaders for long-term success. 

Talent Retention Strategy

There are two aspects to this leadership trend. One is that many companies are more aware of the critical importance of giving all employees, including diverse employees, equal opportunities for learning and inclusion. Leadership training programs were offered mostly to “high potential” employees in the past, but many diverse employees were left out of opportunities when bias is at play. So they left their organizations.  

The second aspect to this leadership trend is that many employees plan on changing jobs within a year, giving rise to the term “Resignation Nation.” The reasons vary, of course, but training and development can reduce employee turnover and help employers better manage a labor shortage. Learning and development opportunities enhance the employee experience and improve employee engagement. 

The trend is companies now seek to make the application process for such programs more systematic and impartial. This delivers greater transparency on performance criteria and more flexible career opportunities. 

trends in leadership training and development

Soft Skills

Soft skills are skills concerning interpersonal abilities. They concern how people relate to each other. Learning and development have always included communication skills, but this leadership trend is to expand the topics to address today’s needs. They include skills like change management, the ability to build trust and influence team members and build teams/coalitions, problem-solving, how judgment is formed, and critical thinking. 

Uday-Riley further explains. “Leadership development content will continue to include all the favorite topics and are increasingly including topics like Emotional Intelligence, Growth Mindset, Resilience, and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). Leadership content seems to continue to focus on helping leaders reinvent themselves so they can better support their team members and their organization. However, we are seeing more of this focus become strategically and tactically aligned with specific business goals.” 

She also sees a trend in that “Employee development content will continue to echo the interpersonal skills side of leader development as some progressive organizations begin to invest more in their workforce.”  

Informal Leaders  

As Craddock said, “Organizations now consider individuals to be leaders based on their impact, not on their authority/title. Increasingly, a leader is viewed as ‘anyone’ whether they manage others or not, who is a top performer in their specific role.” 

"Organizations now consider individuals to be leaders based on their impact, NOT on their authority or title," says Chris Craddock, President at Projections, Inc. #leadershipdevelopment #leadershiptraining #trendsintraining

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Leadership development is recognized as critical to competitiveness and sustainability in the business world, yet defining exactly what it means is difficult. Leaders are usually thought of as people officially holding defined leadership positions (positional), but leaders are in all kinds of positions (situational) – senior managers, salespeople, customer service representatives, tech workers, etc. The one characteristic common to all leaders is that other people are involved. Informal leaders are motivated by their desire to help the organization and other people succeed and heighten their contributions to others through influence, knowledge, relationship-building, and expertise.  

The current leadership trend is a focus on formal leaders helping people in informal positions of leadership improve skills like communication, feedback, expressing motivation, collaboration, to name a few. A research project at the University of Pennsylvania on informal leadership reported some participants felt unsupported and unrecognized by formal leaders, which increases turnover. Informal leaders need formal leaders who ensure they get professional development opportunities and are advocates for advancement. As they learn, the informal leaders don’t always move into formal leadership positions, but if they do, the foundational skills are already developed.  

Neuroscience Influences Leadership Development Strategies  

Neuroscience has become an influence in the field of human resource development. As command-and-control leadership becomes a thing of the past, brain science is helping organizations better understand how their leaders can adapt, and new leadership trends are developed as a result.  

Hilary Scarlett with Scarlett Associates named four enablers of employee engagement. Leaders need skills that: 

  • Provide clarity as to how individuals contribute to an organization’s purpose, provide certainty, and put the brain in a ‘toward state’ that is more able to learn, get involved, focus, and be positive.  
  • Brains have a strong need for social connection, so managers must have the social competency skills to ensure team members feels connected to them. Exclusion has a negative impact.  
  • Fundamental to survival instincts is having some control overwork. Employees who feel like they have no influence experience a negative impact on stress levels, memory, and ability to think. Leadership needs the skills to help employees gain autonomy overwork. 
  • Real values that match espoused values help the brain with a sense of fairness and a sense of certainty. Employees know what they must do to get recognized and the behaviors that support organizational values. 

This is just an example of the type of brain science that is helping leaders understand how to improve employee engagement. This science is contributing to more effective leadership development and training program design.  

Leadership Trends for Remote Workers

Produce Measurable Value 

A brain-friendly employee and leadership training and development effort needs to produce measurable value. “Brain science will continue to drive learning strategies and delivery strategies, and more organizations will want to invest in measuring the value of both leader and employee development initiatives,” says Uday-Riley.  

This new leadership trend is among the most critical of all trends shaping leadership training. Measuring the ROI of leadership and employee training and development is important because it ensures value is created from the investment in resources. Furthermore, measuring the effectiveness of your leadership training ensures that you are keeping your leadership goals in line with your overall business goals.  

Value includes financial returns and non-financial results, like higher employee retention rates, fewer days of absenteeism, higher employee engagement, and a more diverse leadership pipeline. The Kirkpatrick Model of training evaluation suggests measuring value on four levels.  

  • Reaction – the degree to which employees find the training engaging and relevant to their jobs  
  • Learning – the degree to which employees acquire the skills, knowledge, confidence, attitude, and commitment based on their involvement in training  
  • Behavior – the degree to which participants apply their new learning on the job 
  • Results – the degree to which targeted outcomes occur as a result of training  

Employers need measurable results from their training and development investments to meet goals and avoid wasting resources. Determining value is important to keep the training and development goals in alignment with organizational strategic goals. Collecting and analyzing data enables refining training and development efforts by informing about difficulties encountered or identifying strong capabilities. This allows making the courses more adaptable to learners who will save a lot of resources.  

Cognitive Skills Increasing In Value 

Technology continues to change job profiles at an accelerated rate, and the COVID-19 sped up the transition to more automation even more. IBM research found the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation at 59 percent of surveyed organizations 

Many companies are anticipating the future of work and the requirements for workforce capabilities, abilities, and specific skills. McKinsey’s survey reports that, from 2016-2030, demand for physical and manual skills will decline by 30 percent, but there will be significant increases in the demand for complex cognitive skills (24 percent); social and emotional skills (33 percent); and technological skills (58 percent).  

Employers realize they aren’t fully prepared to meet leadership challenges. Barriers include lack of a training and development strategy focused on potential skills gaps, a good understanding of how technology will affect future skills needs, and not knowing how to compare various solutions

Capitalize On Current Leadership Training Trends to Build Better Leaders

Staying ahead of the trends shaping leadership training and development for both leaders and employees is a significant step towards achieving long-term business sustainability. IRI Consultants, the A Better Leader team and Projections, Inc. offer the resources for workforce training and development that will keep you on the cusp of critical trends at all times. Our expert consultants and product designers bring you the most advanced employee engagement resources by developing the resources you need.

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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