Leadership Training: Past and Present – Part I

For the past ten years, business pundits have been warning about corporate America’s looming leadership shortage. Approximately 89% of HR leaders believe they don’t have a strong enough leadership bench to fill roles that will soon become vacant. The “leadership gap,” as it has become known, is the result of several factors (

  • Generational shifts in the workforce – Baby Boomers are retiring.
  • Changes in the nature of work – Technology and COVID-19 have rendered the corporate landscape virtually unrecognizable.
  • Talent recruiting wars – Currently, more leadership positions are available than we have people to fill them.
  • Poor organizational practices – Companies don’t know how to best find, choose, and train leaders.

In light of the leadership scarcity, leadership training is at the forefront of most companies’ minds because if they don’t already have the talent, and they’re having a hard time finding the talent, they realize they’re going to have to make the talent.

In this first article about leadership training, we’ll compare and contrast leadership development from the perspective of the past and the present.   


For decades, leadership development was an in-house affair, and we mean literally in house. Businesses recruited talent right out of college, put them through executive training, and rotated them through different job functions and departments within the company to teach them what they needed to work their way into leadership.  Companies routinely held leadership seminars and trainings that gathered select employees into a physical location that often lasted several days (Spencer Stuart). These trainings usually focused on antiquated notions of autocratic leadership, as opposed to the emphasis on character and culture we see today (


The primary differences we see between leadership development today and past leadership development programs are the methods and the focus.

The Method

The worldwide pandemic precipitated the shift. The ability to gather employees into one place or rotate them through different departments was suddenly gone, so companies had to rely on technological solutions like VILT (Virtual, Instructor-led Training) to get the job done. Interestingly, pre-pandemic, only 45% to 47% of executives believed virtual learning was effective, but since 2021, 70% of organizations believe it to be an effective training method. Necessity, it seemed, was the mother of invention, and the invention works!

The Focus

The primary differences between past and present leadership development are in the areas of culture and character along with social justice and inclusion.

  • Culture – Says CEO recruitment consultant David Daniel, “Appreciation has grown for the important role of corporate culture in guiding the everyday decisions and behaviors of [leaders who] contribute to, or detract from, business performance.”
  • Character – Rather than bearing down on processes and policies in leadership training, companies are now focusing more on integrity/ethics, empowerment, empathy, nurturing, resilience, and promoting diversity (
  • Social Justice and Inclusion – In 2021, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leapt from twelfth to third place in Training’s annual survey of organizations’ top priority leadership skills.

In the next article, we’ll discuss the costs and challenges of investing in leadership training today.