• Jan 27 2023

Disrupting the Development Paradox: How to Help Busy Leaders Prioritize L&D

Getting busy leaders to make time for learning and development can be a challenge, especially in today’s fast-changing business environment. Leaders know they need to continuously develop their skills to prepare for emerging challenges, but are often too maxed out tackling daily tasks to prioritize learning. 

ExecOnline surveyed thousands of leaders and interviewed HR, Talent, and L&D teams to better understand the biggest challenges, most essential skills, and barriers to professional growth facing leaders today. 

We’ve rounded up key takeaways from our research and provided actionable insights into how HR and Talent teams can boost enrollment in their L&D programs. 

Top Leadership Challenges Amid Economic Uncertainty

ExecOnline surveyed thousands of leaders on the biggest challenges they face in the current business environment. In 2022, three challenges consistently dominated the list: 

#1 Motivating employees without incentives

#2 Managing workload with smaller teams

#3 Prioritizing team objectives 

These challenges reflect the dueling economic and talent pressures many leaders have been navigating amid ongoing volatility in the business environment. Economic uncertainty has led to shifting business priorities, reduced resources, and productivity pressure. At the same time, leaders are struggling to engage and support their teams, who are also feeling fatigued from high turnover and sustained uncertainty. 

As a result, many leaders feel overwhelmed and overworked. Most leaders – 71% –report feeling burned out in their role, according to recent ExecOnline surveys (Q3 2022, n=6,756 leaders). 

The Skills Leaders Need Now

There are several leadership skills that can help leaders manage more effectively and engage their teams amid ongoing uncertainty. Here are just a few: 


When leaders are able to prioritize high-impact initiatives and cut out projects with low ROI, it frees up time and bandwidth for them and their teams.


Leaders who have the tools to quickly recover from set-backs and manage stress in the face of change are more capable of leading others, especially in turbulent times.

Strategic Thinking 

Leaders who think “big picture” are better able to marshal resources and align team impact to business goals.


Effective leaders leverage great communication skills to inspire and win buy-in on their initiatives from key stakeholders and collaborators (including their teams). 

The Development Paradox

When applied, these capabilities save leaders’ time and bandwidth. However, overwhelmed leaders feel unable to prioritize leadership development–the very thing that would help them feel less overwhelmed. It all adds up to a failed circular equation: Not Enough Time = No Development = Not Enough Time

Leaders understand the need to upgrade their capabilities to work smarter, not harder. In 2022, when asked what they need most to manage effectively in the current business environment, leaders ranked “more learning opportunities” second, behind “more resources.”

Despite the demand, leaders are finding it difficult to prioritize their development, leaving HR, Talent, and L&D teams wondering how they can boost utilization of valuable learning opportunities that will benefit both leaders and the organization. 

“There is stress on people’s availability for learning and development due to current business forces. There is great desire but there is no ability to carve out the time,” shared a Learning Design Lead at an international tech company during a conversation with ExecOnline. 

What’s at Risk? 

If leaders are not supported to prioritize their development, critical capability gaps widen and cause long-term negative impacts on productivity, culture, and business results. 

Risk to Leaders

If leaders are unable to develop capabilities that help them drive results, they risk getting stuck in their current role and/or falling behind peers in their industry. This can be especially discouraging for high-performing talent.

Risk to Teams

Ineffective bosses undermine the engagement and performance of their teams. When leaders lack critical capabilities, or are themselves burned out and disengaged, it has a cascading effect on the team members they lead. 

Risk to Business

If leaders are unprepared to take on emerging challenges and drive productivity on their teams, businesses risk losing competitive advantage in a fast-evolving business environment.

How HR, Talent, and L&D Teams Can Help

Relevance. Access. Support. By optimizing these three aspects of your leadership development program, you can reduce barriers to learning for maxed out leaders, and boost enrollment in your program. Here’s how: 


When learning opportunities are not aligned to relevant challenges, leaders are not incentivized to invest their time in learning. 

Tip: Use qualitative and quantitative data on current leadership challenges, competencies, and business priorities to inform the learning opportunities you offer to leaders. 

Furthermore, if new concepts are not readily applicable to a leaders’ specific role, they are less likely to spend time learning them. 

Tip: Incorporate project-based learning into your program so leaders are able to gain immediate value from leadership development. 


Carving out an hour or more at a time for learning can feel like an impossible task for leaders with packed calendars. 

Tip: Development experiences that are offered on-demand in short, digestible formats allow leaders to learn on a schedule that works for them. 


Learning alongside a group of peers can encourage leaders to participate in development, and help them stay accountable to their learning goals. 

Tip: Incorporate cohort learning, such as thematic discussion groups, into your existing leadership development program.

Constructive feedback and encouragement from an experienced coach can help leaders stay engaged with learning and connect concepts to high-level strategy and their own professional goals. 

Tip: Pair development experiences with individual and group coaching that accelerates learning.

Learn More

Interested in learning how ExecOnline’s integrated solutions help HR, Talent, and L&D leaders design, deploy, and measure world-class leadership development programs?

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