In the dawn of the age of diversity, equity and inclusion, the face of leadership is changing. As companies begin to take seriously the call to diversify their leadership, effective leadership development is urgently needed. Tools, techniques and programs that used to be focused on a few select individuals are now accessible to the masses online, and employees are taking note.

Doing leadership development right in the current political and social environment opens up a wide array of opportunities. Anything is possible. In the past, a line level employee would never be invited to participate as part of a “think tank.” Now, leaders to realize that their strength is the people who do the work — who add depth, value and drive to the high-level strategy and thought processes.

Where development used to occur mostly in person, now, there are online collaboration tools that make it possible for people to meet across the boundaries of physical distance. Our workplace continues to change, and our leadership teams will soon follow suit. If organizations are not paying attention, they will lose talented potential leaders.

As businesses approach this new era in multifaceted ways, they are finally admitting bias and stating their commitments to hiring more diverse leadership teams. However, they still have a long way to go, which is where learning and development (L&D) teams can drive success. Training departments can help their organization create paths to leadership development for talent who might not be quite ready yet. We can ensure that the plan for developing the next generation of leaders is not a dumping ground of knowledge without any impact on performance.

Here are some encouraging ways to make it happen:

1. Learning Channels

Learning channels create opportunities for collaboration. The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that people can be productive no matter where they are working. By using virtual collaboration tools, leadership cohorts can share information and collaborate quickly. Training professionals and learners can share case studies, articles and other development process tools virtually.

To take it a step further, create opportunities for future leaders to think strategically within your collaboration tool. Encourage them to think through the gamut of leadership situations, including performance management, workforce planning and situational challenges that include conflict resolution. It also creates a great space for learners to innovate and practice together.

2. Personal Learning Clouds

The personal learning cloud (PLC) is a combination of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and learning platforms that enable people to consume interactive content online during the times that work best for them. Corporate training and development organizations are creating their own education ecosystems and offered platforms that help learners earn certifications by learning specific skills on demand. Several consulting companies also offer enablement tools to connect learner needs to on-demand solutions. Regardless of the specific approach, PLCs enable employees to move at the pace of the business or at their own pace, whichever applies.

3. Mentoring

A mentoring program gives developing leaders a sounding board as they think through situations and issues and can help identify and prepare high-potential employees and ramp them up quickly. Mentoring also helps organizations personalize learning when it’s combined with development that follows employees on their entire development journey, as it can be a source of help at their point of need.

4. Connections

Great leadership development opportunities include creating space for connection points outside of the primary focus area. What are the dependencies for the areas the up-and-coming leaders will support? Is there an opportunity to build productive and developmental relationships? Consider experiential learning opportunities that enhance performance opportunities.

Do not try to make these connections on the fly; plan for them. What do you want the employee to learn, ask and experience? Create a road map for the journey that includes a timeline for “now” and “later.” Make these connections an ongoing piece of leadership development to create a more holistic experience.

After employees have spent some time in a particular area, ask them for feedback: What did they do, what did they learn and what will they do differently because of the experience? Plan for next steps, and create a dialogue. Infuse opportunities for them to share their takeaways with the broader team.

These ideas only scratch the surface of the possibility that lies ahead. We are the pioneers who are leading the way to the future of leadership.

Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic on modern leadership development, which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.

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