What I Learned From Interviewing 30 Leadership Development Experts Around The World

This article was originally posted on nicholaspetrie.com.

I know I have been quiet for a while but it has been with good reason. Over the last four months I have interviewed 30 leadership development experts from China, Great Britain, Canada, the U.S., New Zealand (yes, we have some), the Netherlands and Australia. The goal has been to work out what are the newest, most interesting and breakthrough approaches these experts are using to develop leaders in their countries. I’ll be publishing the results in an upcoming whitepaper, but over the next few weeks I’ll start outlining the main points of what I learned from them, as well as 15 tools and methods that they are using.

To get started here is an overview of the key principals I discovered.

Principal 1 – It’s about Mindsets not Skillsets


According to the experts I interviewed far too much time is spent in leadership development programs teaching people leadership ‘skills’. What actually derails or stalls most leaders isn’t a lack of skills, it is the combination of a changing environment and a stuck mindset. The most successful leaders are what is known as ‘learning agile’. They continuously evolve and adjust which means they can; get comfortable with a lot of uncertainty, learn quickly from other people, shift their leadership identity as their role changes.

The future of leadership development will focus less on skill set expansion and more on mindset expansion. New skills are easy to learn, but new mindsets are the future. [tweet this]

Principal 2 – Get Focused on What Really Works: The Three Levers of Development


Warren Buffett tells the story that the first time he and Bill Gates met they were at a party when Bill Gates Senior asked members of their table, what was the one thing that most helped them succeed? According to Buffett, he and Gates both gave the same answer, “I know how to focus”.

Most leadership development programs aren’t focused. They are a grab bag of different tools, techniques and methodologies thrown together, which don’t really coalesce around any guiding principles. But if you really want to help leaders develop you must begin with one simple fact – development is hard. And when things are hard you can’t afford to waste time and energy doing things that don’t work. Instead you must learn the levers that really lead to development and focus everything on them. In my interviews with the thirty experts I found that they used a wide variety of methods, but they believed development took off under three key conditions:

1. Heat Experiences: The leader puts himself into complex situations that disrupt and disorientate his habitual way of making sense of the world. The leader needs to grow to survive.

2. Colliding Perspectives: The leader creates ‘collisions’ with people from different functions, backgrounds, occupations, ethnicities and worldviews. These encounters open the leader’s mind and increase the number of perspectives through which she can see the world. She is growing a ‘bigger mind’.

3. New Map Making: Using these new experiences and perspectives, the leader works with a person or process to build new beliefs, stories and mental models that are more advanced and better suited to the emerging leadership context.

Many leadership programs contain one or two of these elements, but it is when you combine all three that you really create a strong container for development to occur. So how do you actually help leaders do these things? Based on the interviews I learned 15 approaches that the practitioners interviewed found the most powerful for helping leaders grow. There are five under each of the three levers . Over the next few weeks I’ll share my favorite ones with you. More soon……

5 thoughts on “What I Learned From Interviewing 30 Leadership Development Experts Around The World

  1. Such a great article! All points are excellent and very relevant, but the first principal really hit it home for me. I find that 90% of leaders care too much about “skillsets” and “previously held titles”, and not enough about mindsets and potential. This is is something I really hope people take home and understand well, in order to create great organizations. Thank you for the article. I’ll be sharing it.

    1. Thanks for comments Sonal. Yes, I agree that most leaders rarely get derailed because of skillsets, it is nearly always a stuck mindset. Also, as you say looking back at what made them successful at a previous level rather than what they will now need at their current level.

  2. Hi Nick,

    I love the article. Thanks so much for sharing. I’m looking forward to the development approaches that go under each lever and I’ll be sure to implement the ones we don’t have.

    Also, to add to yours and Sonal’s comments, I think John Maxwell said it best. What he said in a nutshell was. leaders have to be constantly learning and developing, because you can’t help someone develop if you as a leader, aren’t developing.



    1. Rick, I am right with you, leaders who want to develop have to go first. The challenge is, how do leaders develop a mindset where they believe this and do this? Many of the organizations I have worked with state that this is important, but only reward and recognition leaders to hit their short term numbers. I guess where this is leading is……how can you create organizations who support long term development for long term organizational results? Google is trying and so are some of my other clients. But it is not common….

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