What Makes Leadership Development Programs Succeed in the Future? 

woman during leadership program

By Michael J. provitera and Mostafa Sayyadi  

Leadership is becoming the forefront of business success for organizations in the new era of AI disruption. Why is this, you may ask? Because effective leadership can potentially correct sub-optimal or ineffective actions that cause companies to spiral out of control. However, the future of leadership development is in the hands of today’s leaders. They can particularly play a critical role in developing more effective leadership development programs for building a better future. There is a set of responsibilities for these leaders that should be taken.  

From prior research we know that the prospect of education provides an alternative to the typical Master of Business Administration (MBA). The Master of Science (MS) in Leadership has capitalized on the leadership education discipline. Yet, a complication comes about because the extent that our knowledge about management and leadership has been extrapolated by scholars to draw upon new degree programs and dialogue that separates the two. [1] As a result of recent events in America and throughout the world, the pandemic has presented an unforeseen flight to online learning, and the process of higher education has changed. Hal Gregersen, a scholar in executive leadership, took his in-class executive leadership course online from the platform of his home for the first time in 2020 during the American quarantine mandated by the U.S. Government. Gregersen shows, by example, how leaders should operate in a post Covid world. This complication is a concern because management educators have been taking somewhat of a back seat to online learning and now face an exodus out of the classroom to the online learning platform. The course of action to address this concern entails a new mindset, one that is somewhat of a hybrid. Offering courses that can be online, remote, or a combination of both. This paper contributes to the literature by providing a mechanism in which offers promise for leadership education in an innovative and creative manner. 

The past provides a foundation, a milestone, and a framework. In 1978, James MacGregor Burns wrote a book titled “Leadership” that effectively established the field of leadership studies. According to Burns, 

 Leaders induce followers to act in accord with the values and the motivations of both leaders and followers. It is a dynamic relationship that, at its best, finds leaders engaged in a process of raising the consciousness of followers, or, at a minimum, engages both leaders and followers in a common enterprise. Leadership is meaningless without its connection to common purposes and collective needs. [2] 

His concept of leadership goes beyond the classroom to incorporate the needs of society. As we reflect on the process of education today which enthralls us to consider leadership with a new mindset that includes diversity, inclusion, and equity. 

Like all educational platforms, it is a process to change, improve, and extrapolate years of colonized educational norms. Recent scholars such as Peter Drucker and Peter Senge add to Burn’s conceptual ideas by decolonizing, the curriculum of leadership, setting a new agenda for organizational leadership and change. They accomplish this by discussing the importance of learning as a catalyst for change in all organizations. Peter Drucker and Peter Senge contend that the following leadership principles can transform companies and prepare them for change. [3] Organizations need to develop systematic methods to look for and anticipate change, focus on, and invest in opportunities rather than problems, phase out established products and services, balance change and continuity, and motivate and retain top performers, creating a mind-set among employees that embraces positive change. 

Burns introduced the comparative concepts of transactional and transforming leadership while Drucker and Senge focused on strategic decisions as a fundamental resource for planning and implementing changes within organizations. [3] The process of leadership has taken on new dimensions, reaching as far as the ends of the globe and beyond. For example, the NASA leadership program prepares leaders to actively lead and manage change within the team that integrates key stakeholders, customers, and organizational and programmatic goals and values. [4] 

Leadership Education 

How can leadership education prepare our future leaders so that they can perform well in every facet of society? This question is answered as this article explores the past, present, and future of leadership education. We attempt to eliminate the mystique of leadership education, while the conclusion summarizes some salient points made in the article and offers ten guidelines that will enhance the role of leadership education in the 21st Century. 

The Past 

Leadership education focused on the discussion method via case studies and site visits to successful companies (e.g., Tom Peters and Robert Waterman). [5] This method of learning is valuable to future leaders but it lacked practical applications. In an effort to explore leadership education, the following chronological milestones are introduced:  

Empowerment. This concept led to pushing the decision-making process within the lower echelons of organizational ranks (e.g., Mary Follett). [6] 

Practice-orientation. This focus attempted to provide an environment for applying what was acquired in leadership education (e.g., John Dewey). [7] 

Participative Democratic Leadership. This type of leadership attempted to encourage 

empowerment while not loosing track of the centralized leadership approach (e.g., Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt and Ralph White). [8] 

Systems Theory. The organization is viewed as an entire system and each strategic business unit as an integral part of a greater whole (e. g. Emery and Trist). [9] 

Trait Theory and Transformational Leadership Models. This model introduced the follower as an important component of leader follow relationships. 

Organizational Learning. The focus was on the application of what was learned versus the espoused concepts of learning (e. g. Chris Argyris and Donald Schon; Peter Senge). [10] [11] 

Change agents. This concept posited leaders as instruments of change (e. g. Robert Chin and Kenneth Benne; Edgar Schein). [12] [13]  

The above developments in leadership education are now faced with dynamic changes occurring in the operational efforts of organizations to gain and maintain market share, recover from the pandemic, and include diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

These organizations have become increasingly interested in the role that business programs at colleges and universities play in preparing future leaders. [14] Can leadership education prepares our future leaders for the process changes that the 21st Century, have now, and will encounter in the future? 

The Present 

Today, there is a complete shift in leadership education from the New England programs to other more economical programs that attempt to decolonize the curriculum. Jeffrey Selingo contends that this shift in demand for leadership education is based on the competition in the area of tuition. [15] Given the electronic nature and marketplace of higher education, if New England does not address this problem quickly, it could suffer tremendous losses in the public-enrollment area. 

Americans feel that higher education should focus less on economic-development and research missions, and more on the basics: general education, adult education, leadership and responsibility, and teacher training. Globally, business schools like Stanford feel that leadership education transforms knowledge into impact and drives innovation in your organization with Stanford LEAD, their flagship online global business program.  

The most important objective of higher education should be preparing undergraduates for a career that they can enjoy and prosper in. [16] The best way to prepare our future leaders comes from the research of Marilyn Taylor and her colleagues who found that: 

Professional leadership education traditionally begins with theoretical constructs and perspectives. If practical realities are represented, it is typically in the form of case studies and/or discussions about possible applications or practical implications. The educational process that begins with and orients students to theory as the starting point makes the path 

back to practice often difficult and unreliable. [17]  

These authors feel that systemic pedagogy provides a common practice into which theory can be introduced through replication of dynamic organizational conditions within the program as well as experience in field settings. Through active participation and interaction, participants can develop professional judgment, in practice, about the significance of specific theoretical constructs that inform relevant application to a range of concrete realities they may encounter. 

Nancy Huber agrees with Marilyn Taylor, as she contends that the use of the class project that employs the principles of experiential education and action research is a teaching strategy that is based on the expectation that future leaders will learn to take responsibility for their own learning and thus will be better equipped to practice leadership in an environment of change and chaos. [18] Most scholars agree that experiential learning will equip the students with real life skills that they can apply to their leadership roles: “leadership development initiatives should be systematic, multidisciplinary, and research oriented and have several experiential components”. [19] 

The Future 

John Nirenberg argues that: “given the recent wave of corporate scandals, the very credibility of business schools’ handling of leadership education is now in question. Alternative forms of leadership education are taking root and most likely will be well established before business schools enter the competition.” Moreover, Nirenberg contends that, “the MBA degree, as the flagship of schools of business, has been under attack for some time. Such criticisms focus on curricular issues, such as the typical program’s increasing irrelevance, as well as the fact that MBA programs do not offer leadership development. If business schools are to remain credible sources of future business leaders, they must change immediately or see their market for leadership development turn to consultants and other schools.” This holds true for the mass exit of the MBA for the more appealing executive education and leadership programs. Does the MBA need a leadership track? Yes. Will it change enrollment? Maybe. Thus, the key is to merge the two programs so that students can take courses that matter for people that care and organizations that can prosper. 

Leadership education is heading in a new direction as more academic programs are becoming practitioner oriented, and more practitioners are using academe as an ample training ground. Many organizations have found that the two-day supervisory training stints do not prepare leaders to manage effectively. They are enrolling employees and recruiting from business schools to augment the in-house leadership development programs.  

Just look at the University of Phoenix and Baker College Online, these universities are offering degree programs that are project based and give their students training certification throughout their degree programs. Phoenix offers a comprehensive web-based complete management leadership training program that is convenient and flexible to thousands of students in pursuit of leadership education. They combine comprehensive management leadership training courses that attempt to assist future leaders to accelerate in their career. Baker College Online is designed for individuals who aspire to upper level administrative and management positions. 

In addition to their core MBA courses, future leaders are exposed to specific leadership issues and theories to develop problem-solving skills that will help them effectively lead an organization in today’s global environment. Ken Blanchard offers a leadership program at a university in California and Jack Welch promotes a program in his name too. The future is open to dynamic change and education is ripe with options for continuous improvement. 

Whether online or brick and mortar, classrooms will cover the theories and models in an attempt to build a foundation of knowledge that can quickly transition into experiential applications such as projects, real world problem solving, and the day-to-day practical use of this knowledge. 

In Conclusion 

Scholars are culling through mountains of research along with decades of scholarship to try to arrive at a general theory of leadership. Unfortunately, some scholars continue to criticize leadership education. According to Burns, there is plenty of room for improvement because leadership programs lack focus. He contends that the study of leadership has become quite fragmented and even trivialized. Rather than studying broad principles, many programs glorify individual leaders. Professors can offset these criticisms by clarifying their role in leadership education (e.g., Steven Kerr), and by expanding their scholarship models to include the four types of scholarship aptly described by Ernest Boyer. [21] [22] 

Boyer contends that the work of the professoriate might be thought of as having four separate roles, yet overlapping functions, which are the scholarship of discovery: the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of application, and the scholarship of teaching. [22] Below are ten guidelines that may enhance the effectiveness of leadership education. 

Ten Guidelines for Leadership Education 

  1. Continue to combine project management, organizational training, and leadership education to ascertain a larger market share of the leadership development field using distance learning tools. 
  2. Bring more community leaders, professionals, or retired faculty into the classroom to enhance the educational knowledge of future leaders. 
  3. Support faculty with training and development as they attempt to make the transition from traditional classroom methods into distance educational environments. 
  4. Consider Total Quality Management techniques such as Plan Do Check Act into the professoriate agenda. 
  5. Combine leadership education with organizational training to bridge the gap between what we learn (theory) and what we attempt to apply (practice). 
  6. Expand alliances with leaders in business such as Elon Musk to include his ideas into classroom activities and extrapolate social media into the homes and offices of people. 
  7. Select communities that need leadership, and provide project-based programs that future leaders can engage in and learn from such as strategic planning models for inner cities. 
  8. Consider a certification process for the education of our future leaders so they can practice what they learn in actual organizational settings and become more credentialed with badges. 
  9. Engage students in the academic research process so that they can learn to develop a knowledge of the metrics involved with human subject reports and improve the process. 
  10. Have future leaders work directly with CEOs or senior vice presidents for a specified Time-period on a project that attempts to add value in that organization. 

Applying these ten guidelines may help to ensure that the administrators, professors, and aspiring leaders enhance leadership education, however academe will have to find ways to cultivate and utilize the knowledge and expertise that each new aspiring leader brings to the classroom. Drucker argued that the new leaders must be persuaded and that the supervision of new leaders is a marketing job. [23] Administrators and professors alike must identify wants, values, goals, and end results for the new leader, then make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of everyone. Scholars will continue to crossover in discipline and work backward to create new models of leadership. For instance, the marketing model of AIDA, Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action will enhance enrollment and the desire to pursue higher education.  

The prospects for a leadership career today are more adventurous than ever before due to the continuous theoretical developments of the profession. From historical frameworks to the processes of today, new leadership challenges will continue to be present in our future, this is an exciting and rewarding time for the new leader. Embrace it! 

About The Authors  

Michael-J-Provitera (1)Michael J. Provitera is an associate professor, and an author of the book titled “Mastering Self-Motivation” published by BusinessExpertPress. He is quoted frequently in the national media. 

Mostafa-SayyadiMostafa Sayyadi works with senior business leaders to effectively develop innovation in companies, and helps companies—from start-ups to the Fortune 100—succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders. He is a business book author and a long- time contributor to business publications and his work has been featured in top-flight business publications.  


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