February 28, 2024


education gives you strength

4 Tips to Help You Create a Successful Leadership Development Program

Leadership development concept. A magnifying glass focusing on a wooden figure of a person.

© Getty Images
Leadership development concept. A magnifying glass focusing on a wooden figure of a person.

The words “leader” and “manager” are often used interchangeably. But, in a work setting, they have very different meanings.

Management concerns the day-to-day activities of running a team, holding performance reviews, assigning tasks, and overseeing schedules. Leadership is about motivating employees to get the best out of them, getting people to believe in what your team is doing, and achieving results.

Not all leaders are managers, but all managers should be leaders. Yet, when companies appoint managers internally, they often promote people with no leadership skills and don’t offer them training to help get them up to speed. They don’t have a leadership development program to make sure they have leaders of the future ready when existing ones leave.

Overview: What is a leadership development program?

A leadership development program provides training to employees to help them gain the skills and knowledge they need to take the next step in their careers and become leaders. Normally, HR professionals and company executives will create these programs taking into account future staffing needs.

3 benefits of a successful leadership development program

A successful leadership development program can benefit both your company, the program members, and other employees. Here’s how:

1. Reduces hiring costs

It costs a lot more to hire a new employee than it does to train an existing one. Ideally, you want to fill your leadership roles internally, so you can reduce the time and effort it takes to recruit new managers and executives.

A successful leadership development plan can help you identify the right people for management jobs and create training to help them develop effective leadership skills.

2. Improves retention rates

Today’s workers prioritize learning and development opportunities, and these are an important way to retain top talent. If an employee feels stuck in their role and can’t see any way to develop, they are likely to leave. They might discuss it with you first, but if you don’t have a leadership development program to help them gain new skills, it won’t make much difference, and your employee turnover rates will soar.

Enrolling employees on leadership development programs also shows that you believe in them and you think they can manage a team or a project.

3. Eases management transitions

When you hire a new leader, they need time to get to know how your business (and industry, in some cases) works. They have to meet their new team, get to know the other managers, and just get used to a new day-to-day routine. This takes time.

They’ll spend most of their first few weeks in meetings getting up to speed. Will they like the role and the company or will they want to leave in a few months citing lack of engagement or poor fit?

When you develop a new leader internally, they skip that process. You already know they are a good cultural fit, and they know the team. It’s less stressful for existing employees as they don’t have to get used to someone new.

How to create a comprehensive leadership development program in your business

Creating a successful leadership development program takes time, but it’s worth the investment. Here are four steps to take to make sure your business has a program that will help employees develop the skills they need to succeed:

1. Define what leadership means to your business

There are a ton of different management styles and leadership models out there, and nobody can agree on which one is best. But that’s because different styles can work better in different companies, in different industries, and with different employees.

Here are some management styles:

Visionary leadership: Charismatic and inspirational leaders

Democratic leadership: Employees participate in the decision-making process

Coaching leadership: A manager who focuses on the long-term development of employees

Organizational leadership: A dual-focused leadership model where the manager considers what is best for individuals and what is best for the team

These are positive management styles, but you also have negative ones, which you want to avoid. These include:

Dismissive: Manager doesn’t listen to employees or take any feedback and opinions into account

Servant leadership: Prioritizes employee wellbeing over results

Authoritarian: The manager makes all the decisions with no collaboration or consulting their direct reports

You need to decide which styles would best align with your values and the company you run. This could vary by team and department. Carry out a job analysis on what leaders are doing in their roles, exploring the tasks, responsibilities, and skills needed to perform well in the role. Then use this information to define the leadership style you need.

2. Decide what qualities you are looking for

You need to decide what qualities you are looking for in a leader to be able to develop those qualities in your current employees. Most of these qualities can be taught, but some are more intrinsic to a person.

Consider these qualities when developing a leader:

• Integrity

• Openness

• Resilience

• Humility

• Influence

• Good communication

• Collaboration

• Good listener

• Honest, passionate, and committed

These qualities are often known as soft skills. To develop them, you need a different approach to your normal training programs. Employees can’t just watch a video and memorize some facts.

Think about creative ways you can facilitate this learning:

• Ask an employee to organize an event or club, such as a book group

• Encourage them to give (and receive) peer-to-peer feedback

• Set up an opportunity to shadow other managers with these skills

3. Implement a succession planning process

Hiring a new manager or executive is expensive and takes significant time, especially if you’re blindsided when said manager decides to leave. That’s why you need to make succession planning part of your leadership development program.

Identify future management needs, and then train employees so they are ready to step up when that manager leaves, gets promoted, moves to a different role, or retires.

Also, consider your staffing plan. This will enable you to:

• Assess your current staffing needs

• Forecast future staffing needs according to medium and long-term business plans

• Conduct a gap analysis to determine the places where you don’t have the managers to achieve your company goals

HR software Workday has built-in analytics that can help you take stock of your staffing needs and work out a timeline and budget to help you train or hire new managers.

graphical user interface, application: Workday’s workforce planning dashboard.

© Provided by The Blueprint
Workday’s workforce planning dashboard.

4. Create a robust training and development program

To develop the necessary qualities and management style, you need a robust training and development program. Before you set up the leadership training program, create goals and work out which metrics you will track. You’ll then be able to see how effective the program is and make adjustments where necessary.

Choose a blended learning approach where you combine different platforms and learning techniques. Here are some approaches to use:

• Videos

• Quizzes

• In-person training

• Gamification

• Peer-to-peer learning

• Shadowing

• On-the-job training

HR software with learning management functionality can help. Zoho People not only lets you tie your training metrics to your performance management plans, but it also has a built-in learning management system. This means you can provide training and track it within the same system.

graphical user interface, application, website: Zoho People’s learning management system dashboard.

© Provided by The Blueprint
Zoho People’s learning management system dashboard.

Lead, not manage

Developing an existing employee to become a leader doesn’t mean they have to become a manager. Many more leadership opportunities exist if they don’t want to be a manager. They could lead a project or a team, or they could mentor other employees.

Make sure any leadership program considers this and defines the skills, experience, and knowledge needed for these roles.

It’s also important to make these programs optional. Not everyone wants to be a leader, so don’t force your employees to fit into the mold just because you think they’d be a good fit. Give them opportunities to develop their skills in other areas and other directions.

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