There’s always something happening in business. Only, these days things happen faster, the pressure and stakes are higher, and the challenges today’s leaders face are more complex than even the most mature organizations feel equipped to handle.

You’re likely quite familiar with many of these challenges already:

  1. A deepening recession and increased economic volatility.
  2. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Higher demand for digital adoption.
  4. Talent shortages.
  5. Increased migration to a virtual or hybrid workforce.

According to EY’s 2021 Global Board Risk Survey, 82% of board members and CEOs say disruption has become more frequent and impactful. Further, EY research found that 85% of senior leaders have been involved in two or more significant transformations in the last five years alone, and 67% of those experienced at least one underperforming transformation. That’s a lot to handle, and that’s not all there is.

When it comes to leadership efficacy and improving operational outcomes, achieving growth, and remaining competitive, the stakes are considerably higher in today’s market. With U.S. unemployment at a record 50-year low, the talent war has made these challenges even greater. Companies are realizing that they must adapt to attract and retain top talent as workers now have greater autonomy.

Leaders must plan, adapt and pivot in real time based on the implications of these challenges:

  1. Decreased employee engagement.
  2. Increased performance, skill and capabilities gaps.
  3. Diminished employee well-being.
  4. Talent shortages — “The Great Reshuffling.”
  5. A mounting leadership gap — “The Great Breakup.”

These and other implications will continue to compel companies to design leadership development programs that will imbue tomorrow’s leaders with the capabilities they need to help companies thrive and grow during these increasingly disruptive times. For instance, according to global employment site Indeed, companies should consistently reflect on their future organizational needs and goals, and identify which departments might benefit from more succession planning. Indeed’s 2022 article, “How To Develop Future Leaders in 5 Steps (With Benefits),” explains that this ensures sufficient time to develop employees and equip them with the tools they need for success.

In this vein, we believe there are five leadership development trends that will shape tomorrow’s leaders and prepare them to lead with empathy, even against a seemingly stacked deck.

Here are five ways to revamp your leadership development program to better face a disruptive market.

1.    Move on from the idea of one-and-done training — forever.

Companies with adequately prepared leaders capable of navigating current and emerging challenges invest in ongoing development. These companies understand that the era of one-and-done training is behind us. Learning needs to be a continual, repeated and contextualized process in order to have lasting and impactful results.

Now is the time to equip leaders to lead teams more effectively through adversity. Throughout digital transformation, where many leaders and their teams operate in a virtual or hybrid environment, more investment into regular and ongoing development is vital. Leadership coaching, for instance, is one beneficial development that is proven to increase employee loyalty, improve talent retention and effectively bridge myriad leadership gaps.

2.    Switch focus from skills acquisition to capabilities development.

Skills acquisition focuses on basic building blocks, where capabilities development relies on unifying these building blocks into abilities that can be used within a more complex, real-time context. Further, aligning leadership capabilities with company goals helps to bridge the leadership gap. This requires that learning practitioners provide development options that enable leaders to think strategically, and help them lead with purpose.

Strategic capabilities enable leaders to look at the big picture, address potential problems and implement fail-safe processes as and where needed. It’s also an opportunity for them to pivot where it would be most advantageous for an organization. Strategic leaders possess the ability to:

  • Develop a vision.
  • Communicate effectively.
  • Set goals and delegate tasks.
  • Continuously gather intelligence.
  • Invite and act on feedback.

Leaders who can think strategically are more conscientious and deliberate about their decisions, and they’re more likely to act as visionaries with actionable plans that anticipate and can adapt to challenges before they have adverse effects on a business.

3.    Scale vertical development.

Leaders need horizontal and vertical leadership development. When combined, these two produce tangible results. In his 2022 article “Closing the Change Leadership Gap” for The Change Management Review, Ty Burton explains that, unfortunately, many leadership development and training budgets are still spent on instructor-led training that focuses only on horizontal leadership development.

Vertical development, which advances a leader’s thinking capability, is less understood, often neglected, more nuanced, and critical for leaders to effect systemic change. Vertical development transforms who a leader is. It shifts their mindset, challenges their beliefs, increases wisdom, expands consciousness and ultimately builds more strategic leaders with the capacity to interpret, relate and lead in today’s highly complex world. This helps to bridge the leadership gap by creating more adaptable, agile and confident leaders who are capable of leading high-performing teams.

4.    Increase EQ.

The idea of compassion and human-centered leadership is not a new one, but it is often overlooked thanks in part to the increased pace and depth of business. Plus, the broader a leader’s responsibilities, the less likely they are to get honest and authentic feedback. So, leaders must develop themselves — and savvy organizations will support their efforts — by focusing on learning opportunities that build self-awareness, empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence.

Human-centered leaders require three components: the ability to lead themselves, the ability to lead others and the ability to lead for impact. Leadership development should focus on emotional and social intelligence and a leader’s ability to self-reflect. They need to be able to look beyond words and behaviors, and reflect on how someone may be thinking, perceiving, behaving or feeling. It’s about putting compassion back in the workplace to create a sense of belonging for each employee.

5.    Normalize tech-inspired development tools.

Successful and sustainable leadership development also requires a scalable, tech-enabled leadership development technology that can store, track and accurately measure each leader’s development, which is more critical than ever in succession planning. It is a crucial part of leadership capabilities development. Learning and talent practitioners should look for technology solutions that facilitate leadership development and coaching program management, can be customized to each leader’s unique needs, offer flexible, data-driven solutions — ideally built on behavioral science — to elevate organizational and individual leadership capabilities, and ensure tomorrow’s leaders are empowered and prepared for anything that comes their way.