Top 5 Leadership Development Challenges

“DDI’s ‘Global Leadership Forecast 2023’ survey is the largest and longest-running global study of its kind, and it provides valuable insights into the current and future state of leadership. I’m sure you’ll find this year’s top 5 leadership development challenges from the survey report relevant in the NZ context with the number one challenge being ‘making learning relevant’.” - Steffan Brunner, Associate Director and Leadership Development Practice Lead


The leadership landscape has been rapidly changing, including how leaders work and tools they can rely on. Accelerated by advances in technology and AI, workplace changes are prompting HR professionals to confront new leadership development challenges to prepare leaders for what’s ahead.

Based on responses from nearly 14,000 leaders from more than 1,500 organisations, DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2023 found five top leadership development challenges that HR teams face today.


1. Making Learning Relevant

DDI’s research shows that learning must be relevant to get results. Otherwise, development doesn't stick. Leaders need to be able to connect what they learn to real challenges they face on the job.

Relevance has become even more important as leaders are overwhelmed with work duties and have less time for learning. With so much competing for their time and attention, they are more likely to take advantage of professional development opportunities when they can see direct improvements in their job.

Companies can reinforce relevancy by communicating how valuable development is for career growth. Furthermore, senior leaders should show they value development and that it's a critical part of the business strategy.

2. Creating Personalised Experiences

Learning should use data and insight to create personalised experiences for each leader. Leadership development is not one-size-fits-all. In the Global Leadership Forecast 2023, leaders made it clear that they want more insight into the areas they can perform better.

Leaders said that using assessment to inform development is one of the top three ways they want to learn. Further, when a follow-up survey was conducted with 1,149 leaders, 87% said they want more insight into their growth areas. That means learning must be personal to them and their development needs.

Many organisations are working to improve personalisation of their programs. Fuelling leadership development programs up front with assessment insights is becoming table stakes. According to our research, 64% of HR respondents say their leadership development programs begin with a diagnosis of leaders’ strengths and weaknesses.

Fuelling development with insights increases the relevancy of what leaders learn. Personalisation also increases leaders’ awareness of where they can get the most value from development. When learning is personalised for leaders, any effort they put in will be more valuable than going through generic development in areas that aren't relevant to them.

3. Prioritising Immersive Learning

When leaders rank what they want most in development, two criteria top the list: learning that is immersive and learning that enables them to interact with peers. The majority of leaders (61%) say they want to be immersed in learning with others. In your organisation, this could include forming peer learning groups where leaders can share experiences and discuss learning.

In addition to peer interactions, what does it mean to prioritise immersive learning? Immersing leaders in their development means learning by doing. Give leaders the opportunity to work through situations and challenges inspired by a real workday. Offer them the chance to participate in simulations, which can provide leaders with opportunities to practice and demonstrate skills in a realistic scenario, without the risk of making a mistake with real consequences.

4. Reinforcing Empathy

With so many people facing increasing pressures at work, empathy is a more important skill for leaders to develop than ever.

Leaders who listen and respond with empathy are better able to connect with their employees and make them feel understood. Global research shows that empathetic leaders are also far more likely to have engaged teams and retain talent.


5. Reducing Burnout

Given the competing demands for leaders’ time, it’s important to offer high-quality and flexible learning opportunities that provide support while meeting their development needs.

The majority of leaders (70%) acknowledged they often feel used up at the end of the day. Leadership training that is not relevant, personalised, immersive, and human-centred risks falling very low on a leader’s list of priorities. It’s critical that development provides clear value and job application so leaders want to prioritise it. On top of this, only 15% of leaders feel very prepared to prevent employee burnout. 

To prevent burnout on their teams, leaders need help up-skilling and practicing key interpersonal behaviours during interactions. These behaviours include:

  • Listening and responding with empathy.
  • Genuinely acknowledging their own failures.
  • Showing vulnerability.
  • Inquiring about wellbeing.

Showing these key behaviours also works to build trusting work relationships. And when team members trust their leaders, they are less likely to experience burnout.

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