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How Can We Re-Imagine Leadership Development? (Part 1 of 4)

Learn about the evolving trends that are affecting the workplace in this first article of a four-part series on how we can re-imagine leadership development, by Nupur Todi, Ed.M., Harvard University; Head Learning and Leadership Development, Providence India

          Leadership development is an integral process through which organizations guide and encourage individuals’ growth, for the benefit of both the individuals themselves and the organizations. It enables employees to build the mindset, skills, and knowledge they need to find success today, and sail into the future.

          The annual global spending on leadership development has steadily increased since 1963 and is currently estimated at over $350 billion. However, many studies indicate that leadership development practices have not kept pace with the changing environment. In one McKinsey survey, only 11 percent of more than 500 executives around the globe strongly agreed that their leadership development programs achieved and maintained the desired results.

Despite the promise of new technologies and increased investment in leadership development, organizations continue to face these common challenges:

• Employees feel unprepared and overwhelmed for the challenges of their roles.

• Organizations struggle to find and develop a healthy pipeline of leaders. Given that the $350 billion industry of leadership development is having such an insignificant impact, clearly something is missing.

          Re-Imagining Leadership Development

          To “fix” leadership development, it is important to understand the evolving trends that are affecting the workplace and the context within which leaders operate and learn. In this section, I explore four emerging trends that I believe will have an increasingly large impact on jobs in Asia.

          1. Diversity in Demographics

          Asia is witnessing twin shifts in demographics, increases in both its aging and its youth populations. By 2030, 67% of its population will be in the working age group and 18% in the aged group. Countries like India and a few others in the South Asian region will have the youngest working populations in the world. The question that looms over this growth is the pace of job creation. In countries like Japan, where the population is much older and smaller, the focus lies in ensuring their productivity. A dramatic increase in a working population requires a different focus. Many more women are also entering the workforce, increasing the culture’s inclusiveness and driving innovation. Given these factors, Asia holds potential to be a huge catchment for new talent.

          2. The Exponential Impact of Technology

          Technology is a double-edged sword. By 2030, according to a McKinsey study, 30 percent of people’s activities will be automated and 60 percent of jobs will be displaced, including those of many front-line workers and routine jobholders. On the other hand, the steady rise of technology allows people to shape the shift toward automation, which ideally will result in more meaningful jobs for all. Technology is intelligent, but it will never be curious and creative as humans are.

          3. Self-Sufficient Economies

          Another trend is the focus on building self-sufficient countries, which means we want to try to solve Asia’s problems with solutions developed in Asia. For example, the “Make in India” Initiative was launched in 2014 with the aim of boosting Indian entrepreneurship through homegrown startups, as well as encouraging multinational and domestic industries to manufacture their products in India. However, to achieve this vision of self-reliant economies, Asian countries will need to close the existing skills gap and invest in the future capabilities of their citizens.

          4. The Rise of the Gig Economy

          Flexible work contracts and workplaces are rapidly becoming the new normal for businesses. In 2019, the global market for temporary labor was valued at $463.1 billion, and the Asia Pacific region is leading the way. Global business leaders forecast a 66/34 split between permanent and temporary workers by 2023, according to a Robert Half study. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this shift intensively, and countless organizations have been required to create flexible working policies on the fly, including working from home, reduced hours, and “work hubs” in which talent can be loaned between companies to manage the disruptions in the talent supply chain.

          All of these trends should prompt us to re-examine the structures and processes by which we develop leaders. Organizations must now not only integrate leadership development into their annual strategies but find ways to increase its effectiveness.

Learn more about the Center for Asia Leadership’s programmes in strategic foresight and adaptive leadership here at




“Imagining Asia 2030: The Future-Fluent Asian Leader.” Center for Creative Leadership.

McKinsey Global Institute, 2017.

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