In an exclusive interview with CIO Advisor APAC, Kavita Khanna, Director of People + Capability at Tonkin + taylor discusses about the various aspects of leadership development and how it has been affecting the traditional methods of leaderships applications in organizations. Kavita Khanna is not only an expert generalist within the human resources profession, she also has a broad skill set and expertise covering governance, leadership, strategic planning, managing a business and advisory.

Why are we not getting results?

Leadership developmentis important to organisations. Good leaders help to drive strategy and achieve business performance. We are spending big on leadership development; the logic being - it is cost effective to develop leaders through organised intervention. Last year alone, the global corporate spend on leadership development was estimated to be around $370 billion. And yet, leadership stays at the top of the ‘needs improvements’ lists for people, CEOs, HR leaders and of course for leaders themselves.Organisations want more help developing leaders as leadership talent continues to remain hard to hire. In the meantime, technology and digitisation has reset everything about work and the workplace. Clearly, something needs to change as the context has changed. Who we call leaders, how we develop them and when we develop them all require a re-set.

What has changed?

Traditional Leadership development and practices were exclusive and position based. Domain mastery led to individuals being charged with leadership roles. However, what has changed in the last 20 years is that organisations want our leaders to do more, to be more, to evolve and continuously skill up to meet the ever-changing business landscape. People have now come to expect more of our leaders especially the more visible leaders in addition to the usual direction, alignment and support in delivery of business objectives, we want our leaders to be wise but vulnerable, infallible but at the same time ‘real’, stable but transformative and unflappable and excited about possibilities.

"One of the more accessible aspects of face to face learning in the traditional leadership development format is feedback"

Where traditional leadership development was focused on a mix of management-based competencies and interpersonal competencies, now we are talking about new leadership literacies – digital, transformative, cross cultural, scenario generation and sense-making among many. And it is no longer about mastery over several years of practice. We need our leaders equipped to deal with tomorrow’s changing context, yesterday and be able to take everyone along as they do so.

Pressure on the traditional approach -No time to cook

The traditional approach to leadership development relies on several years of development through intensive training and mastery through developmental assignments. This approach is under pressure. We need more leaders than ever before and we want them to transform in real time.We want to develop these leaders and we want this done in a cost effective, non-disruptive way.We want not just the traditional skills but also new leadership literacies such as sense-making, navigating vuca, leading across generations and so on. Oh! and please can you also make it fun and appealing to all five generations that are in the workforce today?

This is where technology plays to a great advantage. If you want to deploy a scalable, hyper-personalised development solution that also enables collaborative learning, feedback and access to communities of experts and peers, there are lots of ERP, LMS and cloud-based platforms, and apps that enable this. What’s making it even more cost effectiveis that these platforms have partnership with content providers to provide curated content that, with machine learning, like Netflix, can even offer suggestions based on predefined parameters including preferences.


The formal content around leadership skillsincluding the standard offerings of interpersonal skills, decision making, conflict resolution, strategic thinking and so on, are part of bundled solutions on learning platforms. However, technology has enabled easy access to new research and thinking in the leadership space. This is particularly relevant as organisations previously had to pay for a trainer/ learning designer or consultant to develop the content as well as keep it current with the latest research. Now, you can expect to see good science supporting most solutions with the platforms investing in psychologist and learning specialists thus distributing the costs of access to expensive experts and research.

Reach and approach

You want the whole organisation trained? No problem! Tertiary education institutions have caught on and are also offering digital certificates of completion so you have visible record of continuous learning. With a lot of top universities getting into the act, you can access quality, university managed content. You want it done on a budget?Again, easy peasy! If you can invest time creating leadership pathways and going through free MOOCs from aggregators like Coursera and Udemy, most LMS platforms allow content to be hosted so long as you can provide a web link. You can have your pathways mapped with relevant courses and ready to be rolled out to individual learners.

Most learning platforms allow organisations to create role-based pathways and cadence for learning. These can be modified to create options to suit each individual’s learning style and stage of career.If the organisation requires learning at the point of activity, that can be set up. If your learning style is reflective, course set-ups allow for guided reflection.

Cloud and MOOCs already enable unbundling of programmesso that the learner- employee can learn at their own pace. This currently is typically available for passive content. Deeper learning through coaching is still predominantly face to face. But it is only a matter of time before this is also transformed through technology.

What’s a gap begging to be filled?

For industry veterans or budding entrepreneurs from the leadership development space, there are gaps in the current market that are yours for the taking. These are in the areas of remote coaching, team-based learning, deep learning on the job and unlearning old ways.

One of the more accessible aspects of face to face learning in the traditional leadership development format is feedback. This is already enabled through most engagement and performance platforms. Remote coaching has been enabled by Skype, Zoom and other meeting software. However, there are very few players in the market who currently offer team based coaching solutions or solutions that offer guided learning using AI.

As people leaders get busier and are having to juggle several complex challenges and yet are expected to support development of the individual. Some leading organisations have already begun to experiment with the power of peer-learning to boost leadership development. If technology enabled platforms could incorporate supportive content to get peer learning happening that is something that many organisations would find helpful.

"One of the more accessible aspects of face to face learning in the traditional leadership development format is feedback"

Developmental stretch assignments are an important aspect of deeper learning, on the job, that develops and embeds leadership skills through application in more complex environments involving new problems to solve. These assignments, however, tend to be limited as there are only so many stretch assignments available at any given time, meaning learners miss out and the organisation misses out on deeper learning Already, technology enables creation of simulations and scenarios. If you combine this with machine learning to generate immediate feedback, there is potential for designing a learning environment where we can provide stretch assignments which allow the learner to apply what they have learnt and embed more complex learning without the organisation having to create new positions. The scalability of this proposition is what will make it an attractive solution.

Another area that has not been explored is ‘unlearning’. Learning something new requires behavioural re-programming where the learner has to learn new ways, understand and work out how to apply it to their current context and work out how to let go of the previous paradigms of operating, to fully ‘learn’. There is potential for a technology-based solution that monitors this for an individual (either through structured feedback or reflective inquiry-based solutions).

In summary, the future is now and technology can enable leadership development solutions to be scalable and cost effective for the organisation and support the individual learner through user- friendly, socially enabled interfaces that truly democratises leadership development.