The Science of Developing Leaders


Many of us, past a certain age, will find ourselves claiming at some time or another that the youth of today do not know they are born. When we were young we didn’t have avatars or iPads, we didn’t have skype, mobile phones or the internet. And for the most part, this is true. We do now live in a very different world from that in which many of us reached maturity. But whilst this modern world brings untold advantages, it brings too, unprecedented demands on our leaders, who are now required to operate in a highly volatile and uncertain world.

Added on 16 October 2014 by Lee Waller

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But are our leaders, and the development opportunities afforded them, up to task? Is there a need now for innovative ways to accelerate their development to prepare them for the challenges of leading in this complex, and often chaotic environment? And if there is, how do we go about developing these methods?

One potential advancement might be inferred from work being done in the emerging field of Organisational Cognitive Neuroscience, in which researchers believe that to understand behaviour within organisations we need to understand the social psychology, cognitive processes, and ultimately neurological systems which underlie them. Applying this argument to leadership development, some researchers are calling for collaboration between neuroscience, behavioural and management expertise in order to advance methods of developing leaders.

I would have to agree with this proposition, and would argue that if we want to develop truly innovative and effective methods for developing our leaders to cope with today’s demands, we need to shift our focus from competences and behaviour, and start to develop an understanding of the science behind the process and experience of learning: the social psychology of the classroom; the developmental stages of cognitive maturity; the impact of personality on the experience of learning; and the cognitive and neurological processes involved in learning.

Join us for our two day conference: Scientific Advances in Developing Leaders for Today’s Complex Environment, on 11-13 December, to discuss how this understanding can help us to develop effective methods for developing leaders for today and tomorrow.

Lee Waller is Director of the Centre for Research in Executive Development at Ashridge Business School