Business Leadership Today

Three Pillars of an Effective Leadership Development Action Plan


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

Effective leadership is the backbone of any successful organization. It drives innovation, fosters a positive work culture, and ultimately leads to long-term success. However, effective leadership doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a continuous process that requires a well-structured action plan.

A well-structured leadership development action plan will include tools for personal growth and key strategies for building a succession pipeline of qualified leaders. This pipeline ensures the organization’s resilience and continued success, even in times of change and transition.

An effective leadership development action plan can include many different strategies, but there are three important components all action plans should include. 

Three things that make a good leadership development action plan are measurable goals, a growth-focused feedback system, and a continuous improvement mindset. No matter where you are in your leadership journey, these three components will help you hone your leadership skills and lead teams that thrive. 

This article will discuss three critical components of an effective leadership development action plan. We will also explore how these elements can be applied across different generations in the workplace to ensure all employees have opportunities for growth.

What Is a Leadership Development Plan?

A leadership development plan is a personalized, strategic approach designed to help a leader or a team of leaders achieve their specific goals and objectives. It serves as a roadmap, outlining the goals, actions, and evaluation methods for an individual leader or a group of leaders.

This plan is tailored based on the individual’s strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and career goals, as well as the outcomes of various components of a leadership development program. It provides a structured way to identify areas for improvement, set goals, and track progress.

A leadership development plan can be invaluable, no matter where you are on your leadership journey. Whether you’re a seasoned executive or a budding leader, this plan can provide direction, foster growth, and improve leadership skills.

A leadership development plan can benefit different generations in unique ways. 

Baby Boomers might use it to refine their legacy and mentorship strategies, while Gen X and Millennials might focus on developing specific leadership competencies and navigating their career paths. Meanwhile, Gen Z leaders might use the plan to align their leadership style with their values and aspirations.

Three Components of a Good Leadership Development Action Plan

A good leadership development action plan has three components: measurable goals, regular feedback, and continuous learning.  

1. Measurable Goals: The Power of SMART Goals

The cornerstone of any leadership development plan is the establishment of clear and measurable goals. One of the most effective strategies for goal setting is the implementation of SMART goals—an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Specific: Goals should be well-defined and clear. A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. For example, a goal to “improve communication skills” is less specific than a goal to “improve public speaking skills by attending a workshop.”

Measurable: Goals should be quantifiable. It should be easy to track progress and know when the goal has been achieved. For instance, a new manager might set a SMART goal to reduce team turnover by 10% within six months.

Achievable: Goals should be realistic and attainable. While it’s good to aim high, it’s also important to set goals that are within reach to maintain motivation.

Relevant: Goals should align with broader organizational objectives and the individual’s career aspirations. This ensures that achieving the goal contributes to the bigger picture.

Time-bound: Goals should have a clearly defined timeline. This creates a sense of urgency and prompts action.

SMART goals provide a clear direction and a sense of purpose. They allow leaders to track their progress, measure their achievements, and make necessary adjustments along the way.

Different generations may approach goal-setting differently because they are motivated by different things

Baby Boomers, who are often motivated by competition and achievement, might focus on ambitious, big-picture goals. They might set goals that align with the overall business strategy and contribute to the company’s success.

In contrast, Millennials, who typically value work-life balance and personal growth, might set goals related to skill development or work culture improvements. They might aim to learn a new skill, take on a challenging project, or create a more inclusive team environment.

2. Growth-Focused Feedback System

Feedback is integral to leadership development. It serves as a mirror, reflecting our strengths and areas for improvement. 

A growth-focused feedback system is one that encourages continuous learning and improvement. It’s not just about pointing out what’s wrong; it’s about highlighting what’s right and how to do more of it.

A growth-focused feedback system involves providing constructive feedback. Constructive feedback is information-specific, issue-focused, and based on observations. It comes with specific suggestions for improvements and is directed at actions that can be changed. 

This type of feedback not only highlights strengths but also identifies areas for improvement, fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth.

For older generations like Baby Boomers and Gen X, feedback has often been given in a formal, hierarchical manner, usually during annual performance reviews or similar formal settings. While this approach has merits, it can sometimes delay necessary feedback and hinder immediate growth opportunities. 

Research has shown that Gen X workers typically prefer stimulating and challenging work environments and tend to excel when their supervisors engage in coaching and provide timely feedback.

Millennials and Gen Z prefer regular, informal feedback conversations. They value transparency and open communication and appreciate receiving feedback in real time. This allows them to make immediate adjustments and fosters a more dynamic and responsive work environment.

It’s important for organizations to adapt their feedback systems to cater to different generational preferences and expectations. This might mean incorporating more frequent, informal feedback sessions into the work routine for younger employees, while still maintaining more formal feedback structures for those who prefer them.

3. Continuous Improvement Mindset

The third pillar of an effective leadership development plan is fostering a continuous improvement mindset that is open to learning. 

This mindset isn’t about making changes for the sake of change but rather about embracing change as an opportunity for learning and growth. It involves being open to new ideas, learning from mistakes, and continuously seeking ways to improve.

A continuous improvement mindset can be cultivated by encouraging curiosity and learning. Leaders should be open to new ideas and innovations, regardless of their source. They should see every challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow. 

For example, instead of viewing a failed project as a setback, leaders with a continuous improvement mindset would analyze what went wrong and use those insights to improve future projects.

This mindset also involves being proactive in seeking out opportunities for improvement. This could mean regularly reviewing and updating processes, seeking feedback from team members, or investing in professional development opportunities.

Different generations may approach continuous improvement differently. Baby Boomers and Gen X may focus on improving existing processes and systems, while Millennials and Gen Z may be more inclined to seek out new technologies or methodologies to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Creating an Action Plan

A leadership development plan is a dynamic tool that adapts to the needs of the individual and the evolving workplace environment. It promotes continuous learning and development, making it a crucial component of successful leadership.

An effective leadership development action plan should include measurable SMART goals that provide a clear path forward and enable progress tracking; a growth-focused feedback system that provides timely, constructive feedback; and a continuous improvement mindset that promotes a culture of learning, embraces adaptability, and encourages everyone, regardless of their role or seniority, to strive for excellence and never stop learning.

By understanding and considering the different preferences and expectations of various generations, leaders can create a more inclusive and effective development plan that fosters growth for all employees. The goal is to provide a roadmap for current leaders to enhance their effectiveness and for aspiring leaders to step up and make their mark.

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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