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Leadership Development

Design Leadership Programs that Succeed: 5 Top Trends in Leadership Development


5 Key Trends for Good Leadership Development Program Design

Each year FlashPoint explores upcoming leadership development trends and research to understand how we can better develop leaders. This year’s research showed important themes around developing leadership programs that lead to optimal results and a steady and ready pipeline of leaders.

Our first, and most important, takeaway this year is the urgent call to innovate. 80 percent of business leaders believe that greater innovation was needed in learning techniques used in leadership development programs in this year’s The State of Leadership Development Report (Harvard Business Publishing, 2018). We like to see that as an opportunity: There’s clear support from the business to challenge the status quo and push our leadership development efforts to the next level.


Trend 1: Leader needs and preferences are changing

Last year, we called out the fact that Millennial leaders are the people leaders of today. They represent the majority of the workforce and about half of the manager population. And they have different preferences from prior generations, in terms of how they prefer to learn and how they view the programs they’re offered. Today’s leader prefers being in the driver’s seat of his or her learning, with 74 percent believing that they should drive learning experiences, not L&D (Harvard Business Publishing, 2018).


Trend 2: Measurement is about purpose, not just metrics

Measurement of program objectives continues to be a struggle for L&D professionals, along with not communicating outcomes back to the business. In our conversations with FlashPoint clients, we always start with one question: “What does success look like?” 

The resulting conversation–and each client’s measurement plan–comes out differently depending on leader levels, program length, investment, senior leadership buy-in, and many other factors. But by asking that question upfront, our clients are already miles ahead of the current majority of organizations that don’t measure anything, as well as the 60 percent that don’t believe they capture their program’s effectiveness (Harvard Business Publishing, 2016).


Trend 3: Development Gets more personal + Includes more choice

Are you more likely to enjoy and apply a training you were required to attend or one you chose? If your answer is the latter, then you are like many of the leaders we’ve worked with lately!

This year we’ve been exploring how learner choice and “choose-your-own-adventure” style programs can really impact engagement and participation. The key to choice-based programs is allowing leaders to determine for themselves what activities best fit their learning style, pace, interests, and goals. This aligns closely with our first trend, that leader needs and preferences are changing, which means they prefer to have more choice and control over their learning opportunities.


Trend 4: Mentoring and Coaching are just right, right now

We’ve been talking about the impact of mentoring and coaching since our trends research for 2018. It is astounding to see coaching and mentoring rated as most effective modes of leadership development, yet still see them so widely under-used in comparison to more traditional classroom training (Brandon Hall Group, 2016-17).


Trend 5: Reinforcement to sustain learning isn't a nice-to-have, it's a must-have

It’s a common challenge for participants: How do I go back and actually apply new skills on the job after a great event or program? From our trends research, reinforcement is one important way to give program participants concrete ways to use their new skills and knowledge. Truly effective reinforcement isn’t reminding or retraining–it’s providing the right information at the right time to encourage participants to apply, deepen, or reinforce what they’ve learned.


So, what’s your takeaway from these trends? You can certainly reflect on the importance of personalization–not just for your leaders, but for your organization as well. There simply won’t be a one-size-fits-all program template for program design that works for every leader cohort or every organization. Your organizations and respective strategies are unique and require that we apply original thinking.

But, we hope these trends inspire you to dig deep into how you design your programs and work to make them more effective. Throughout the upcoming year, we’ll be writing further about each trend so make sure to subscribe to our weekly email if you haven’t already!

You can download a copy of this blog to save for future reference, review our prior trends research here, or check out more of our leadership trends research here.

You may also want to read some of our other research into leadership and learning and development trends:


  • Brandon Hall Group, 2016-17 Training Benchmarking Survey
  • Harvard Business Publishing 2016, The State of Leadership Development
  • Harvard Business Publishing 2018, The State of Leadership Development Report
    Photo by Keith Dodrill on Unsplash

 Download the top trends in leadership development program design!

Krista Skidmore

Krista Skidmore , CEO and Cofounder of FlashPoint, is passionate about all things leadership. She manages FlashPoint's strategic direction with integrity and insight.