• September 13, 2018

Leadership Training and Development: A Brief Learning Science Primer from a Learning Scientist

In this era of digital transformation, where organizations rely increasingly on cross-functional and deeply collaborative teams, leadership is becoming more distributed and employees are taking on leadership roles much earlier in their careers.

Combine this with some of the recent corporate crises (#metoo, unconscious bias, discrimination) and effective leadership training becomes even more important. 

Hard Skills of Leadership

The hard skills of leadership training and development provide the leader with all of the knowledge and facts associated with strong leadership.

This includes learning the rules, regulations, and compliance requirements, but also includes learning “hard” skills such as the ability to identify unconscious biases and appropriate workplace behavior.

Effective hard skills learning requires the recruitment of the cognitive skills learning system in the brain that encompasses the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and associated medial temporal lobe structures, and relies upon working memory and attention.

“People” Skills Training

The goal is to provide the leader with the people skills necessary to communicate effectively with verbal and non-verbal cues.

This includes eliminating any action from the leader’s behavioral repertoire that expresses bias, or inappropriate behavior. These people skills must be trained effectively, and across a broad range of typical and atypical situations (e.g., during conflict resolution, performance evaluation, or under time or social pressure).

Effective people skills requires the recruitment of the behavioral skills learning system in the brain that involves the basal ganglia and relies upon real-time interactive feedback and dopamine mediated changes in subsequent behavior.

Situational Awareness

The best leader can “read” any individual, group or situation, can “think on their feet” and can adjust their strategy and behavior effectively.

This involves a rich suite of cognitive, behavioral, but most importantly, emotional skills.

One must develop the ability to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” to understand and “read” another’s state of mind, as well as to understand how one’s own behavior is interpreted by others.

Effective situational awareness learning requires the recruitment of the emotional learning system in the brain that encompasses the amygdala and associated limbic regions. Emotional learning enhances both cognitive and behavioral skills learning.


Leadership training is increasing in its importance in the modern workplace.

Effective leaderships have a deep understanding of the hard skills of leadership, have strong people skills and broad situational awareness.

Learning tools that lead to effective leadership must train these skills by recruiting the relevant learning systems in the brain. These include the cognitive skills learning system, the behavioral skills learning system, and the emotional learning system.

Digital Transformation of the Workforce

Learn insights about the benefits of proactive retraining and reskilling, and how you can better understand the economics of learning.


Todd Maddox

Ph.D., Learning Scientists/Research Fellow at Amalgam Insights, Inc.

Todd Maddox, Ph.D. is a Learning Scientist/Research Fellow at Amalgam Insights, Inc, and the Founder and CEO of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting. Todd is the top-cited academic in the HR and L&D analyst world with over 10,000 citations. His passion is to apply his 25 years of learning science expertise—the marriage of psychology and brain science--gained by managing a large human learning and performance laboratory, to help businesses build better training tools. Todd published over 200 peer-reviewed research reports, has given over 200 research presentations, and was awarded over $10 million in federal grants from the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation, and Department of Defense. For more by Todd Maddox go to www.amalgaminsights.com.