Closing the Leadership Development Gap at ATD

Last month Ron Price spoke at the International Association for Talent Development (ATD) Conference in Atlanta about the state of leadership development. The topic was so engaging for attendees of the conference that there was standing room only in his session. We talked with Ron about why he thinks the subject of gaps in leadership development is so popular with companies right now. 

This was your second year presenting at the international conference, how was presenting at the conference this year?
Last year when I spoke at ATD, I was in the Global HR Director track and I spoke about Winning the Global Talent War. We had great interaction and a healthy conversation about attracting talent.

This year I spoke in the Leadership track about why leadership development programs fail. It turned out to be a big draw and we filled the room. It was clear that the audience was already experiencing the gap and wanted to learn how to make their leadership development programs more effective.

During the presentation I listed the four reasons why today’s leadership development fails. After each point, each of the tables had group discussions and went deeper into those reasons, and then reported back after. It was a very interesting conversation that gave us a lot of insight into challenges with leadership development today.  

Why do you think companies are so concerned about leadership development?
The big reason is because organizations are already experiencing the gap in future leaders. We are undergoing a demographic shift in the workplace, and in order to just maintain the leadership base, we need to accelerate leadership development. And if a company is growing, they need to accelerate it even more.

Most companies see leadership development as critical to advancing company strategy. The truth is that we need new ways to develop leaders; the old ways are not enough.

There is a lot of new technology that supports leadership development, but people haven’t yet learned how to use those technologies to their advantage. Studies show that very few companies feel like they have mastered leadership development through the new mediums available. 

What do companies want their leadership development programs to achieve?
To start with, leaders must do a better job of developing how they lead and manage themselves. This includes everything from how they prioritize and manage their emotions to how they take accountability. These are all ways that companies are looking for their leaders to grow.

The second is how leaders lead others. This is looking for, understanding, and organizing around the strengths of the people on your team. Doing this causes a leader to be aware of his or her employees’ needs and aspirations, and align those with what the company is trying to accomplish. 

Third is that leaders are becoming clear thinkers. This is nurturing a set of behaviors that help them continue to develop their thinking skills—both critical and analytical. Clear thinking allows them to understand and improve systems, and to better look to the future.

The fourth is that companies are recognizing more and more that character is an important component of effective leaders. This includes humility, transparency, honesty, and being loyal to the people you lead. It’s really servant leadership.

When it comes to leadership development, companies are looking for their leaders to dramatically improve their behaviors in all four of these categories. And if a leadership development program includes all of them, then you will be able to minimize the gaps.