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  • Writer's pictureNick Petrie

The Surprising Benefits of Virtual Leadership Development

Most leadership development people love nothing more than getting in the room with a group and creating a magical experience. I feel the same way. So when the pandemic hit, my colleagues and I all had the same nagging question--is leadership development still going to work virtually?

The experiment has now run for six months. And while there are some obvious downsides to virtual, there have also been some surprising benefits. Here are the biggest upsides I am hearing from my clients and one life-changing decision I made as a result.

  • No one has to travel: being face to face is fun, but it has a cost. Leadership development pre-virtual used to involve flying leaders from around the country or the world. Now, people walk from the kitchen and open the invite. A C.O.O. said to me the other day, “I don’t know why I used to fly to Germany to sit face to face for a 3-hour event. It seemed important, but now I can’t remember why.”

  • New budget available: A C.E.O. of one organization reported that they are now saving $30-40 mill on travel per year. He was also clear about the implications, “When this thing is over, we aren’t going back.” Connect the dots. Budgets that used to be spent on flights and accommodation for leadership programs can now be spent on…… the people.

  • People have clear pain points they want help with: Most people previously were interested in developing themselves, ”Sure, why not?” But it wasn’t urgent. Now I am seeing that people have very specific pain points (‘How do I keep my team engaged and productive?’, ‘How do I avoid burnout?’). If you have tools and methods that are both relevant and valuable, people show up in large numbers and are very hungry to learn solutions. And isn’t that what we always wanted?

  • Virtual sessions are ‘snackable’: When we used to get people together for leadership programs the programs had to run for at least 2 days to make it worth the travel and investment. So we had long programs. Not now. Since people are calling in virtually you can make the workshops snackable – 90 mins and done.

  • You can spread the learning over time: Spaced learning was always a smart way to help leaders learn but for the reason above, it didn’t always happen that way. Now we can genuinely create a ‘process rather than an event’.

  • There is space for action and reflection: Because the sessions are snackable it means that after 90 minutes, people can use the next week to go and take action and reflect on what happens. This creates a natural learning loop so that they can then come back and talk about in the next session, “Here’s what I tried and I was really surprised by what happened.”

  • Zoom breakouts mean no size limit: I have been amazed at how interactive sessions have been using zoom. The combo of sharing new content and tools in the large group and then having people talk about applications and challenges in the zoom breakouts and chat has been eye-opening. We used to say classroom groups of 12-20 were optimal, but with Zoom, I am finding we can do 40, 100, 200 if the topic is right.

Yes, there are a lot of good things about being in a room together and one day we will be. Equally, I am not saying that virtual is ‘better’ than face to face. It’s just that there are some clear benefits to virtual workshops, but if you don’t stop to reflect on what they are, you’ll probably miss the new opportunities.

Several clients have said to me after recent workshops, “Nick, don’t take this the wrong way, but these virtual sessions are just as good as when we used to fly you in for the day.”

I didn’t take it the wrong way. My family and I are moving to New Zealand.


To speak to Nick about bringing vertical leadership development into your organization send a LinkedIn message or email


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