Courage and leadership to face challenges business concept. Big

Is professional development broken? In an age where leadership skills are highly coveted in the workplace, it’s important to challenge some long-standing assumptions about how we develop leaders within our organizations. One such notion is that companies tend to promote employees into management roles without adequately preparing them for the leadership responsibilities that come with them.

While this criticism does hold merit in certain situations, it may only paint a partial picture of the state of leadership development within companies. It is true that businesses inconsistently invest in nurturing leadership skills among their employees, but many companies do a good job of planning to develop leaders. However, even when they do spend money, the effectiveness of such professional development training programs can often fall short for various reasons:

– It may need to be revised for modern times.
– It’s misaligned with the individual’s needs.
– The person promoted may lack a genuine interest in leading.

Investing in Leadership Development

I can’t get over my dissatisfaction with this statement found on the internet: “The problem with most companies is that they promote people into management without planning to develop their skills to be a leader.”

Estimates suggest that organizations in the U.S. spent an average of $1,308 per employee on learning and development in 2020. With approximately 21 million management occupations in the U.S., the total investment could be roughly $27.47 billion.

(However, this investment includes all types of training, not just management skills development. But this is real money.)

Based on research from companies like SkillCylce and, organizations are doubling down on the quality and focus of skills-based training. So while I’m rarely an apologist for big corporations, I don’t think the criticism of the breakdown of “leadership planning” is accurate.

Companies are focused. They know it’s time to skill up their future leaders. However, we need new leadership models in our corporations that train for impact, accountability, and maturity without focusing on titles or span of control on organization charts.

How do we do this?

From Leadership to Self-Leadership

One idea to make corporate training more effective and aligned with the future of work is to shift the focus from traditional leadership development to self-leadership.

Self-leadership empowers employees to take charge of their professional development and growth, instilling a sense of ownership and individual accountability. This shift necessitates rethinking traditional hierarchical structures and promoting flatter organizations, which rely less on managerial oversight and more on personal initiative and responsibility.

Enhancing Workflow Management

An integral part of self-leadership training is to equip individuals with skills to map and manage their workflows effectively. It involves understanding their work processes, identifying potential bottlenecks, and strategizing to streamline their operations. Planning exercises such as premortems — a strategy in which a team imagines a project has failed and works backward to anticipate potential issues — can also be crucial in preparing individuals to foresee challenges and devise solutions proactively.

How to Make This Work

As we continue to invest billions into learning and development, it’s vital to ensure that these investments yield a workforce that’s skilled, resilient, adaptable, and ready to chart their own professional growth. That’s why shifting our focus from traditional leadership training to self-leadership and workflow management can help. It fosters a culture of empowerment and accountability.

The future of work requires more than just leaders. It needs self-leaders focused on new-school professional development. It’s time we reassessed and reimagined our approach to preparing the leaders of tomorrow. Please do it for your workforce and so we can all stop reading stupid leadership quotes on LinkedIn that no longer resonate with the future of work.