Business Leadership Today

How To Create a Leadership Development Program (5 Steps)


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

An effective leadership development program serves a dual purpose. It not only aids employees in their transformation into leaders, fostering personal and professional growth, but it also benefits organizations by establishing a pipeline of future leaders, enhancing adaptability, and improving business outcomes.

A well-designed leadership development program should address two crucial needs. 

Firstly, it should be structured to provide employees with opportunities that facilitate their growth. This could involve placing them in scenarios that challenge them and helping them develop new skills and competencies. 

Secondly, the program should be geared towards helping the organization meet its growth objectives and tackle future growth challenges. This could involve preparing employees for leadership roles that will be critical for the organization’s future growth.

Creating a leadership development program that addresses the growth needs of the organization and its employees involves several key steps:

  1. Determine your organization’s current and long-term needs
  2. Create a succession plan
  3. Align the program with the business strategy
  4. Take a multi-faceted approach
  5. Implement a system of ongoing feedback

In this article, I’ll discuss how to create an effective development program that will help both employees and the organization achieve sustainable growth. 

Leadership Development Explained

Leadership development is a systematic and strategic process aimed at enhancing an individual’s ability to lead others and drive the organization toward its strategic goals. It can involve a variety of activities, programs, and initiatives that focus on acquiring new skills, boosting confidence in leadership, and making strategic decisions.

Effective leadership development can significantly improve business outcomes, including performance, productivity, and profitability. It fosters a culture of mutual respect, collaboration, and open communication, leading to more fulfilling workplace relationships.

The quality of leadership within an organization influences every aspect of the organization, from employee engagement and retention to long-term profitability and innovation. Effective leaders inspire employees, foster a positive work environment, and drive the organization toward its strategic goals.

While leadership development is often associated with senior roles, it’s beneficial for anyone with management responsibilities or leadership aspirations, including middle managers, team leaders, and potential leaders among individual contributors, making it worth the investment. 

Investing in leadership development is a strategic move for any organization aiming for long-term success and can benefit organizations in a number of ways.

Among team members, leadership development can foster a sense of satisfaction and appreciation for the company’s investment in their personal and professional growth. It can play an important role in creating a more positive work environment and helps eliminate obstacles that may hinder growth, innovation, and productivity, thereby enhancing the organization’s overall performance and profitability.

There are many approaches to leadership development, offering a plethora of options for those eager to refine their leadership skills. These options span a broad spectrum, from an array of training courses to practical experiences and mentorship programs.

However, effective leadership development goes beyond the curriculum of a standard training course. It aims to fundamentally transform the way future leaders engage with others. This involves not just imparting knowledge or teaching strategies, but also fostering a shift in mindset and behavior. 

Good leadership development focuses on cultivating interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and the ability to inspire and motivate others. It encourages leaders to be empathetic, to listen actively, and to communicate effectively. It also emphasizes the importance of adaptability, resilience, and the ability to navigate change.

Moreover, it recognizes that leadership is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Different situations call for different leadership styles, and effective leaders are those who can adapt their approach based on the needs of their team and the demands of the situation.

In essence, effective leadership development is about nurturing individuals who can lead with authenticity, inspire trust, and create an environment where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute to their fullest potential.

Leadership Development Programs Explained

Leadership development programs are structured initiatives designed to refine and enhance leadership skills through a mix of learning experiences, including formal training, mentoring, hands-on experiences, and feedback sessions.

These programs aim to equip individuals with the skills they need to lead effectively, navigate challenges, and drive their teams toward success. They serve as an investment in the future leaders of the organization, ensuring a pipeline of skilled and confident leaders ready to take the helm when the time comes.

Leadership development programs cultivate key leadership skills in individuals, encompassing a wide range of competencies crucial for effective leadership. These include:

  • Effective Communication: The ability to clearly convey information and expectations, listen actively, and foster open dialogue.
  • Goal Setting: The ability to set achievable, clear, and measurable goals for oneself and one’s team.
  • Public Speaking and Presentation Skills: The ability to present information in an engaging, clear, and persuasive manner.
  • Strategic Risk-Taking: The ability to make calculated decisions that can lead to significant benefits, despite potential risks.
  • Time Management: The ability to prioritize tasks and manage time efficiently.
  • Organizational Planning: The ability to develop strategies and plans that align with the organization’s objectives.
  • Talent Management: The ability to identify, develop, and retain talented individuals.
  • Team Building: The ability to create a collaborative, inclusive, and effective team environment.
  • Delegation: The ability to assign tasks to team members based on their skills and capabilities.
  • Conflict Resolution: The ability to manage and resolve conflicts in a constructive manner.
  • Culture Management: The ability to foster a positive, inclusive, and productive workplace culture.

These programs identify employees who demonstrate strong leadership potential and equip them with the necessary skills and attributes for leadership roles. This process often involves a combination of training sessions, workshops, mentoring, and practical experiences.

When implemented effectively, leadership development programs can significantly enhance personal growth and well-being. They play a crucial role in fostering a dynamic and productive work culture, nurturing rewarding relationships, and driving business results. 

By developing strong leaders, organizations can improve their performance, innovation, and overall success.

What Are the Steps To Creating a Leadership Development Plan?

An effective leadership program is designed to facilitate the growth of employees while simultaneously addressing the growth needs of the organization.

Here are five steps to create a leadership development program that will help employees and the organization grow:

1. Determine Your Organization’s Current and Long-Term Needs

Identifying your organization’s present and future requirements involves a series of steps. Initially, you need to evaluate the current performance of the organization, which includes examining processes, financial health, and employee feedback.

Next, you should define the organization’s needs and objectives and gain an understanding of the skills, resources, and changes that will be necessary to meet these needs and achieve these objectives. A needs assessment can identify the “gaps” between the current situation and the desired outcomes, which helps in setting strategic objectives.

Analyzing workflows can help identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Analytics tools can allow you to take a deep dive into metrics and KPI performance to discover patterns, gaps, or opportunities.

A strategic plan can then be formulated to address the identified needs, with needs prioritized based on their significance to the company’s progress, and a roadmap for accomplishing them can be developed. The ultimate aim is to align the organization’s needs with its strategic goals, ensuring that all actions and initiatives are in line with the organization’s overall mission and vision.

2. Create a Succession Plan

A succession plan is a strategy designed to identify and prepare future leaders in an organization. It’s essential to have a steady stream of potential leaders who can fill key roles when necessary, ensuring a seamless transition of leadership and the preservation of valuable institutional knowledge and cultural DNA.

The process of creating a succession plan involves several steps. 

First, you should identify the critical positions within the organization. Then, determine the necessary skills, experience, and qualifications for these roles. 

Next, identify potential successors within the organization who could fill these roles based on their performance reviews, skills, experience, and potential. These individuals are then nominated for the succession plan based on their readiness to assume these key positions.

An action plan can then be developed to prepare these potential successors for their future roles. This could involve training, mentoring, job rotation, or other development opportunities.

Regular reviews and updates of the succession plan are crucial to ensuring its relevance and effectiveness, considering changes in the organization’s needs, the business environment, and the development of potential successors. 

3. Align the Program With the Business Strategy

Your leadership development program should align with your organization’s business strategy, reflecting its goals and values. 

The skills and competencies developed through the program should foster employee growth and drive the organization’s strategic objectives. This alignment ensures that leaders developed through the program can effectively contribute to achieving strategic goals.

Aligning a leadership development program with the business strategy involves several key steps:

  • Understanding the Business Strategy: A detailed understanding of your business strategy is crucial. It should be articulated in terms of decisions.
  • Tailoring Assessments: Tools like 360° assessments should be customized to the strategy, emphasizing strategically related items in the analysis.
  • Incorporating Goals into Development Plans: Individual development plans should include goals aligned with the strategy. When setting goals, individuals should explain how these goals tie back to the business strategy.
  • Choosing Relevant Training Topics: Training topics should be selected based on their relevance to the business strategy. Any training should begin with a review of the business strategy, explicitly stating how the training relates back to the strategy.

A well-aligned leadership development program not only leverages individual capabilities but also propels the organization toward its strategic goals.

4. Take a Multi-Faceted Approach

A successful leadership development program employs a diverse range of methods to cultivate leaders. This comprehensive approach integrates various elements to foster leadership growth, recognizing that leadership development is not a linear process but a multi-dimensional journey that shapes a leader’s identity.

Three key aspects of this approach are:

  • Expanding Leadership Understanding: Broadening one’s understanding and perspective of leadership beyond traditional concepts, embracing new ideas and approaches.
  • Recognizing Interconnected Roles: Understanding the interconnected nature of roles and responsibilities within an organization, acknowledging that every role contributes to the overall success of the organization.
  • Identifying Leadership Purpose: Determining one’s purpose as a leader to guide decision-making and actions, ensuring alignment with the organization’s goals and values.

The concurrent development of these three aspects, along with an expanding understanding of leadership, results in a more robust leader identity. This approach ensures that leaders can respond authentically, constructively, and effectively in various leadership situations.

The program could include mentoring, coaching, on-the-job experiences, job rotation, workshops, and formal education. This multi-faceted approach ensures that leaders acquire a broad range of skills and experiences, preparing them for diverse challenges and opportunities.

5. Implement a System of Ongoing Feedback

Continuous feedback is vital for growth and is key to addressing employees’ needs effectively. 

Establishing a system for ongoing performance feedback allows participants to reflect, learn, and improve continuously. This process starts with valuing diverse perspectives, as leadership development is a dynamic process requiring active engagement.

Leaders should take personal responsibility for their growth journey, setting goals, and seeking improvement opportunities. They should leverage their strengths to inspire and guide their teams, while also identifying areas for development.

Actively seeking feedback and constructive criticism is a valuable resource for growth. Continuous feedback involves regular, constructive discussions between managers and employees. 

Technology can aid in facilitating the feedback process. A healthy feedback process is transparent, encourages ongoing dialogue, and isn’t confined to annual reviews. Key aspects include understanding the purpose of feedback, documenting feedback, scheduling feedback sessions, and being open to receiving feedback.

By following these steps, a robust system of ongoing feedback can be established, fostering leadership development.

How To Get the Most Out of Leadership Development Programs

By following these steps, you can establish a leadership development program that not only fosters the growth of your employees but also propels your organization’s growth. 

It’s important to remember that leadership development programs should prioritize growth over training. While training is a crucial component, the emphasis should be on growth. This means providing leaders with opportunities to learn and evolve through real-world experiences, challenges, and feedback, rather than solely relying on formal training sessions.

Leaders can be nurtured and developed, but they cannot be manufactured. When designing a leadership development program, consider how you can immerse participants in situations that will necessitate learning and growth.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that your leadership development efforts significantly impact the business. This approach underscores growth and development over traditional training, focusing on real-world experiences and challenges that align with the business strategy.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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