I see three fundamental changes in leadership development. First, development has tended to focus on the negative. Weaknesses may be relabeled as ‘development opportunities’, but the emphasis is clear - a person lags in a skill the organization deems important and this must be addressed. The new science of positive psychology has shown that employees are more engaged, more creative, and more productive when development focuses on harnessing strengths rather than addressing weaknesses. Second, leadership development tends to focus on what activities a leader must undertake, and how she ought to do them. In short, it is about best practices. What is missing is being able to carry out these practices successfully, and this will be the focus of the new ‘Behavioral Leadership’. Third, I believe, we will see a shift in emphasis from development as a training event, to a more extended form of development in which learning is practiced at work and over time, leading to deep change.
With respect to measuring ROI on such investments, it is certainly possible, but in practice quite difficult. The challenge is to identify measures of return that can be causally linked to training interventions rather than confounding factors. Behavioral science and the concept of experimental management offer new ideas for how to establish these links. By carrying out controlled experiments (in much the same way as clinical trials in medical interventions), organizations can measure key indicators such as engagement, retention, and mentoring effectiveness, and then compare these measures across employees who have completed a development program and a control group of others who have not.