In the wake of all the disruptions and workplace changes precipitated by the pandemic, employees are looking for more from their employers. They want flexibility, of course, but they are also expecting a more humanistic management style. Employees want to contribute in a meaningful way, and they want to grow their knowledge and skill.

While modern employees want to feel like they are continuously developing, they are not necessarily interested in formal programs. If we want to retain good employees (and help employees to stay up to date in rapidly changing fields), we need to unlock less structured developmental strategies. Everyone has a role to play in ensuring ongoing development.

Pillars for development in organizations

Mutually reinforcing roles are reflected in the ideas that have come to the forefront in L&D over the last several years or more. It’s not one strategy or the other, it’s all of the above. In today’s organizations, rich and impactful employee development rests on four pillars.

As noted, each of these pillars have received attention from L&D leaders over the last several years, and the last pillar is now emerging into the spotlight. Effective leader-led development is one of the topics that has been recurring on the L&D priority list over our long history, and we can take lessons learned in past waves to inform how we think about leader-led development now. We can also look to the research on learning culture, self-directed learning, and transfer of learning for advice on management activities that support employee development, and other models and studies that focus on the role of a developmental leader to further describe development options.

Moves that guide employees to peak capability

Historically, we’ve called on managers to take a variety of developmental roles. Leaders as teachers, leaders as coaches, leaders as mentors, the leader’s role in the individual development planning process – these have all been headlines in our efforts to bolster the manager’s developmental responsibilities. These initiatives focus primarily on one aspect of a developmental role, while development by its nature requires multi-faceted approaches. Each action alone is simply one step, while a strategic blend of multiple actions can best move people toward peak capability.

Think of developing people as similar to climbing a rock wall. There are any number of moves that can be made to make progress up the wall, but it’s a combination or succession of moves that gets a climber to the top. Each climber takes a different path. If you’re leading or directing a climb by others, you’re strategizing the whole way and taking advantage of what’s available to find footholds to lift people up. Of course, you can guide people where to place their hands and feet, but they have to do the climbing themselves.

Taking that image into the realm of developing people capability, there are six categories of moves that leaders can make that will help people to advance their development, each nudging employees in different ways. These moves are meant to:

  • Clarify – moves that define goals and describe desired capabilities
  • Coach – moves that introduce and hone knowledge and skill
  • Challenge – moves that provide the context for learning through work
  • Connect – moves that match people with others who can support growth
  • Curate – moves that make specific recommendations for learning materials
  • Customize – moves that address individual needs of employees related to their professional development

There is a great deal more to be said about these moves, but these are posts for the days ahead…

The leader’s guide to developing people series

The Quick Guide for Developing People provides examples of these moves and some important guiding principles. People leaders need to know more than the bullet points, though, if they are to be effective in making these moves.

I’ll be using my newsletters and blog posts to explore these ideas in detail over the coming months. Sign up for my newsletter to be sure you see all the posts. Alternately, you can follow along by adding my blog feed to your favorite feed-reader ( There’s a book-length guide on leader-led development waiting to be written (I call dibs), but you’ll get the preview here in my blog. Let me know what you think!

If leaders in your organization could use deeper guidance in how to develop their direct reports, I have an engaging development program to offer. (Yes, I know there’s some irony there. To be clear, the program uses at least four of the moves: clarify, coach, curate, and customize.)  Contact me to discuss the possibilities.