As leaders continue to navigate a rapidly changing business environment, we must ask ourselves whether they have embarked on a change program themselves. Why is it important? Learning and Development programs build the skills and capabilities leaders need not only to deliver business results but also, and perhaps most importantly, to take care of organisations’ biggest assets–their people.

In many of my recent conversations with L&D managers, the subject of Leadership Development has clearly come out as their #1 priority. The challenge is that leaders who are busy are sometimes resistant to the idea of developing new skills. They rely more on their current toolbox of leadership approaches and hope that it’s sufficient. Research published in the book ‘How Leaders Improve’ by Gates, Grady and Lindekens, identified that unless leaders see a clear need for change, even the best training has limited impact.

Here are four ways you might engage your leaders to build self-awareness around the need to change:

1. Well-being has been cited as the #1 global trend in HR.  

There is a tidal wave of wellbeing options being introduced to organisations, including a whole new category of job roles, from Chief Wellbeing Officer to Wellbeing Managers. I really like the insight provided by Josh Bersin in his recent article. It is clear that wellbeing is important, but rather than it being the responsibility of a department, he places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of leaders. Leaders need to improve their empathy, relationship building and understanding of their teams’ current health. This includes physical health, mental health, financial health and family health. Leaders need to create psychologically safe environments for people to speak up without the fear of recrimination. Have your leaders got the skills to do this?

A number of our clients have understood the importance of providing leaders with the toolkit to create safe environments and providing them with the conversational skills to support their teams.

2. Often, leaders do things with the best of intentions.

They are overly helpful, protective, optimistic or even enthusiastic. The downside is that these positive intentions can have a subtly diminishing impact. The research by Liz Wiseman, in her book Multipliers, cited all of these as accidental diminishing traits. In the hundreds of keynotes and workshops, we have conducted over the last ten years, this is the biggest ‘Ah-ha!’ moment, where leaders discover they are shutting down the thinking of others and consequently demotivating them.

3. Paradoxical leadership needed.

In a recent HBR article, authors Leinwand, Mani, and Sheppard identified six leadership paradoxes that leaders need to develop. Like most paradoxes, you are likely to have a natural tendency towards one side, but you now need to develop the skills on the opposite.  Jim Collins called this “the tyranny of the &”. It is no longer acceptable to be a Strategic Thinker or Execution Planner only. It would be best if you were a Strategic Executor, emphasising both skills equally. In fact, the HBR research suggested the digital model of value creation may require even stronger execution skills than in the past. All six paradoxes were great, and perhaps my favourite was the Humble Hero, the need to take bold decisions in times of uncertainty whilst having the humility to ask for help. Read the full article, and think about where your leaders might need to develop their skills further.

4. Curious collaborators.

Do your leaders stay curious for long enough to explore and engage with new ways of work? Are they willing to combine strengths with other leaders to solve new challenges? Exploring authentic reactions to solving complex problems is the new focus of virtual reality training. Thrown into unknown immersive experiences provides accelerated insight into a leader’s natural tendencies. Once these are exposed, leaders have a heightened sense of the need to change and a desire to improve rapidly. Old school simulations might have created this within hours or days, Virtual Reality, on the other hand, creates this impact within minutes.


The number one fact is clear in all the research. It’s hard to be a great leader. There is an abundance of content and tools to help – but getting your leaders to acknowledge that they need to grow and change is always the starting point.