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Building a Thriving Leadership Development Program and Why it Matters

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With traditional executive education models becoming less popular, emphasizing leadership development in today’s fast-paced world is essential.

Here’s why leadership development programs matter and 6 easy ways you can begin building one for your company today.

What is Leadership Development?

Leadership development refers to a process by which people are educated to become better leaders within their companies or personal lives — for this article, we’ll focus on the former. 

Enhancing the skills of future leaders used to follow a traditional path that included either business school, consultancies, specialized training companies, or a combination thereof. 

However, the landscape is changing, and businesses should now focus on building programs to create the leaders they want to see.

Why is Leadership Development Important?

There are a myriad of reasons why leadership development matters for your company. Let’s highlight the most memorable ones.

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) surveyed over 15,000 people and uncovered that their leadership development program:

  • Learned lessons relevant to their company and work;
  • Better prepared them for future leadership responsibilities;
  • Better helped them be more effective, collaborative, and open-minded leaders

Additionally, leadership development tends to attract and retain the best talent. Also according to CCL, these programs improve employee engagement, reduce the cost and burdens of turnover, and better fill gaps in upcoming talent.

These development programs help you train the best leaders for your company and attract the best talent when it’s time to hire. It’s a win-win!

How to Build an Excellent Leadership Development Program

  1. Look for Leadership Development Skills in All Employees

In any organization, there exists a variety of people. Some are forward, outgoing types willing to ask for leadership development assistance because they know that’s the path they want. 

Other times, even some of the most promising future leaders may be reluctant to speak up. They may not yet visualize their career path, or they’re simply quieter and less willing to seek help. These are the employees for whom leadership development training is the most essential. 

By focusing solely on current top performers and employees who jump to mind immediately, there’s a lot of potential talent you may be overlooking. 

Make a conscious effort to build leadership development programs that cater to all employees, whether they’re top performers, extroverted, or anything in between.

  1. Acknowledge Achievements

For leadership development to be effective, people need to be active participants, and new employees must sign up. One excellent way to promote your program is to recognize significant accomplishments publicly. When current leadership acknowledges your hard work, you’re even more likely to keep committed to your leadership track.

Keep track of the following metrics to ensure your leadership development program is working:

  • Number of participants who get promoted after completing the program
  • Overall number of participants in the program
  • Whether employees feel the program was worthwhile
  • Whether employees’ colleagues think the program helped their coworker grow into a better leader
  • Increases in employees’ desire to take on leadership tasks and their successes with them
  1. Understand There are Many Ways to Learn

We briefly touched on the fact that the leadership development education landscape is changing. There’s been a push in recent years towards nontraditional models of executive education.

To understand those nontraditional models, you’ll want to know the traditional ones:

  • Business school
  • Consultancies (strategic and HR)
  • Corporate universities

In reality, many people are instead looking towards personalized remote learning programs. The layman’s term for these is simply online courses that are customized and hand-picked.

These courses differ from traditional methods in a few distinct ways:

  • They can be done at anytime
  • Barrier to entry is significantly lower
  • Learning is adaptive and customized to the learner, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach seen in schools and programs

When you build your leadership development programs, make sure they are adaptive, customizable, and personalized to cater to your participants’ needs. When it comes time to select your next leader, don’t throw out someone’s candidacy because their education differs from the traditional path.

  1. Focus on Retention

Great! You’ve got a growing leadership development program, and employees are finding success with it. Unfortunately, most of your employees leave before you can promote them to leadership status.

It’s an incredible waste of resources to have a leadership development program that builds leaders solely for other organizations. Thus, make sure you’re focusing on retaining your people both during and after they’ve left the program.

Here are some ways you can focus on retention:

  • Create good company culture that values feedback and communication (i.e. surveys, 1:1s with managers)
  • Offer exit surveys and act on them
  • Develop your employees (this leadership development program is a great start. You can also offer educational stipends, provide coaching opportunities, and focus on employee development as a whole)

Related: All About Employee Development And Why It’s Critical For Your Company’s Success

  1. Provide Everyone with a Chance to Demonstrate Leadership Skills

Although top-performers may stand out, you want to provide all employees with the chance to prove their leadership skills. Make it a point to unexpectedly provide everyone with the opportunity to lead a high-value (but low-risk) project. 

Not only does this help you gauge who the best future leaders may be, but it helps all employees build confidence in their leadership capabilities. The shyer, less-inclined members of your organization can slowly build their self-belief. 

Never force anyone to take the reins if they don’t want to. This can end badly for you and the employee. Instead, note anyone who consistently declines leadership roles; they likely won’t be your pick in the future. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Offer plenty of support and guidance during these trial projects. Questions will arise, and mistakes will be made — it’s your job to offer support.

  1. Ensure There is Senior-Level Support

Without senior-level support of your leadership development initiatives, it’s challenging for these future leaders to believe in it. You’ll want your current leaders to hold that same commitment and focus towards your new program, and they should help encourage people to participate.

Worried you may not have the right leaders? Jennings Executive can help you source the best ones for your new leadership development initiatives. With 20 years of experience, we’ll find the best executives for your organization. Learn more today!

Time to Create Leadership Development

Now that you know the 6 best ways to build a leadership development program and why it matters, it’s time to get started. Although these initiatives are a lot of work, they’re building future leaders for your organization. The payoff is worth it!

Related: Top 7 Best Recruitment Strategies For 2021

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