Learning & Development for Senior Leadership Roles: From Anne Prabhu’s desk

VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) is a new normal in the current business environment, characterised by accelerated changeand disruption driven by technology innovations, globalisation thereby inter-dependence and interconnectedness of businesses, political and regulatory changes, amongst others. A leader’srole has become so important; so also the demands on him / her to grow business and thrive in this rapidly changing environment.
In this context, organisations are evolving their learning & developing programs to equip senior leadership to show up as leaders, understand the current business context and take decisions and drive transformation whether to build capabilities for innovation, manage costs, build alliances or focus on whatever business goals need to be achieved.
The approach to developing leaders has changed right from:

  1. Setting measures for success that were traditionally number of programs run, participants participation etc to business outcomes that could be as specific as building a pipeline of leaders so as to meet the need for 3 CEOs in 3 subsidiaries through internal promotions, building a culture of learning within the next 2 years, creating new products of which at least 2 are commercialised in the next 3 years etc.


  1. Kind of Competencies developed –Apart from critical thinking skills, some of the competencies that have become ever so important in leaders of today are learning agility and the ability to adapt; ability to collaborate across levels, geographies, functions et al; ability to make sense of the chaos and provide direction and clarity, and provide vision; and to be in a constant mindset of discovery and learning. From a command and control era successful leaders allow for dissention and are open to possibilities of what might emerge, empower their teams, engage deeply with individuals and teams, align expectations (rather than managing expectations), manageand grow opportunities rather than risks, and are continuously curious and open to learning and transformation of the self.
  2. Methodologies of providing Learning & Development – For learning to be long lasting and for real development and transformation; the approaches are multi-pronged. Leadership development programs cover methodologies like:

Case studies – where leaders are expected to analyse the case as if they were in the situation as a leader and are expected to come up with decisions. Thus it involves examining the causes, coming up with different courses of actions, presenting the same and listening to alternate viewpoints etc. The process is participative and enriching as there are diverse ideas, and opportunity to even come up with something that no one person had initially thought of.
Coaching – Behavioural change is not just a matter of acquiring knowledge. For shifts to truly happen, engaging with a coach in a safe environment and in the process gaining insights on deep beliefs, fears, values, discovering ones purpose enables real shifts. For instance – to empower ones team members, the leader may first need to become comfortable about letting go, and become aware of his/her deep seated needs and fears. Growing one’s network and learning to influence through trust begins with first trusting one’s-self.
Workshops where the leadership curriculum is covered in an interactive and participative manner by a trained facilitator. The facilitator’s skills in allowing space for reflection, gaining insights, drawing out the wisdom from the group itself make true learnings emerge.
Experiential Learning – Where through structured activities and group processes, and skilfully facilitated discussions post the activities, awareness is built on specific leadership competencies.
Action Learning – where post the learning program, specific and real time projects / situations are taken up and the learning is applied. A mentor can be assigned to support the individual in taking the learning forward.
During and soon after a leadership program, there’s a ‘wow’ feeling among participants. The program however is only effective if business outcomes are achieved once participants go back to their work situation. To enable and support learning, organisations and leadership development institutes have structures that support continued learning like peer learning circles where smaller teams meet on a regular basis to share learnings, provide support and encourage each other.
While learning &development is more important than ever for senior leaders, in this collaborative and empowered world, future trends point out to a need to democratize leadership development across the organisations as decisions are now broad based; and greater innovation in the development of methodologies for developing leaders.
The writer is a senior partner at Hunt Partners. She leads the Human Resources and Logistics Practice in the firm.

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