Creating an Effective Leadership Development Program in the Workplace

Implementing a leadership development program within your organization is crucial for having a “strong bench” and attracting and retaining top talent.  It starts at the top; senior leadership must take an active role in identifying the desired outcomes and proactively guiding the program’s structure and implementation.

Focused skill development needs to occur not only from a work product/technical perspective but also, arguably more importantly, from a leadership perspective.  Too often, employees have all the product/technical expertise needed to theoretically be successful as they move up the corporate ladder but end up failing when promoted because they never developed the necessary leadership abilities that set them up for success.  As a result, many fail.

Leadership Development – What does it do? 

Leadership development at its most basic level increases a person’s ability to perform as a leader within an organization effectively.  Leadership refers to the ability to build a shared vision, collaborate, and develop the necessary skills/capabilities to execute the organization’s vision and strategy successfully.

There are very few job titles with the word “leader” in them; leaders may be in formal management positions or individual contributors.  Mature leadership is demonstrated by those around you willingly following you, trusting you, seeking your input, and wanting you to be proud of their efforts.  It is charting the path forward not through dictates but through listening and influencing the direction ahead, especially during turbulent times.

How Can a Leadership Development Program Help Your Organization?

Many organizations view leadership development as a pillar of business success, so they strive to make it a core business strategy.

An organization’s culture is shaped by leadership, a critical factor in its success.  Engaging and motivating employees improves performance and efficiency, especially during this challenging labor market.  It is also foundational to the ability of a company to attract and retain top talent.  A top performer is less likely to jump to another company if their current company gives them a reason to stay; they likely are saying to themselves, “Give me a reason to stay, and I will, don’t and I won’t.”  It’s that simple.  Investing in your top talent to know they will be ready and wildly successful when their next internal opportunity comes along can be why they value staying.

Developing an Integrated Leadership Growth Program 

Senior leaders are responsible for investing in, developing, and growing organizational leaders.  A targeted, ongoing, and effective leadership development program provides the ability for corporate leaders to inspire, motivate, and engage their teams.

Unfortunately, too many businesses fail to take the time to thoughtfully and clearly identify the specific qualities and skills that will make leaders within their organization effective, nor do they evaluate whether their existing “leaders” have these qualities or abilities.  As an example, Mary and Joe have both been in management positions for years, so they must be leaders – but what if they aren’t?  Mary and Joe may have sat through previous leadership development training classes, and they may have read all the must-read how-to-be-a-leader books, but they may not be doing more than talking the talk and are unable or unwilling to walk the walk.  “Leaders” like this are, simply put, toxic to an organization.  To develop leaders at all levels, a company must evaluate each leader’s/top-talent’s skill set and their preexisting capability for leadership to identify potential performance gaps.  This article describes how you can tailor a leadership development program according to the level of each current and future leader in your organization, ensuring that each can develop their abilities and prepare for future success.

A Leadership Developmental Approach Tailored to Level within the Company

Emerging leaders are individuals who have just begun their leadership careers.  Emerging leaders need to be developed through focused self-awareness, assessment tools, a focus on relationships, and an increase in the application of evidence-based leadership.  In addition, educating emerging leaders will help them prepare for managing others in the future rather than managing themselves.

The earliest-level leaders have not yet been exposed to organizational leadership, meaning they need time to develop their own leadership style as they mature and develop their management abilities.  Among the best practices to include in a program for emerging leaders are:

·        Self-Assessment Tools – To Identify areas of strength and need for improvement.

·        Project Leadership – Offer opportunities to take on more responsibility and accountability.

·        Group Coaching – Create opportunities to interact across organizational functions to gain interdependency understanding develop management skills, and explore future opportunities.

·        Mentorship and Coaching – Assist emerging leaders with processes within the organization.

Middle/Senior leadership may be acting as management and not as true leaders.  If this management level is not leading, the entire organization will falter.  The same best practices apply for this level, albeit at times in different methods.

·        Self-Assessment Tools to Identify areas of strength and need for improvement combined with a 360degree review – peers, superiors, and subordinates.

·        Special Project Leadership – Offer opportunities to take on more responsibility and accountability and take them outside their comfort zone.  These likely will highlight to an even greater degree interdependencies within the organization but also with customers/clients and investors/shareholders.

·        External Coaching – An outside coach is critical the higher within the organization one goes to ensure candid discussion and growth.

Five Critical Leadership Development Resources & Functions:  

1.  Mentoring – The ability to unlock the full potential of direct reports is one of the most crucial skills leaders must develop, both as potential leaders and as existing leaders.  Each day is filled with coaching opportunities; when a leader has strong coaching skills, they can recognize these moments and make the most of them, creating valuable learning experiences for the people they lead.

2.  Responsibility – A strong leader is aware that their success depends on their team’s performance more than on their own.  A leader is no longer regarded as an individual contributor to the organization, and assessments should not be based on that assumption.  Besides being responsible for their actions and results, they are also held accountable for those of others and must be responsible for team outcomes.

3.  The Process of Change Management – Many factors contribute to the ongoing shift in business, including market changes, employee turnover, company growth, national/international economic shifts, new competition, etc.  Training in Change Management must be integrated into any leadership development program, so leaders can harness their vision and provide robust and clear leadership, taking advantage of transitional periods to boost their organization’s performance.

4.  The Impact of Influence and Negotiation – The ability to be a strong influencer and a fair negotiator will enable leaders to return to their roles, knowing that leadership is not about established authority but being able to influence employees to achieve goals.

5.  Effective Communication – This skill needs to be constantly optimized to stay relevant and valuable.  Communication in a leadership role occurs at all hours of the day using a wide array of media, such as presentations, one-on-ones, phone sessions, emails, texts, and videoconferences.

Now is the Time to Make Leadership Development a Priority

Your organization’s success depends on having an effective leadership development program that crosses all levels of the organization.

The gap between the ability to provide excellent leadership in your organization and the reality of ineffective leadership programs cannot be closed without a serious evaluation of your current leadership capabilities and readiness.

Given the uncertainty and upheaval of the last couple of years, leadership development might have fallen off the priority list for your organization; however, it is more important than ever to provide a program that will allow strong leadership to emerge and grow.  A solid leadership strategy must consider the company and level-specific challenges and the needs for different types of leaders.

Leadership development programs teach participants how to build quality relationships, align priorities effectively, and insist on win-win outcomes that successfully complete projects within time/budget and exceed customer expectations, whether those customers are internal or external.

In conclusion, it is time for your company to prioritize leadership development at all levels of the organization.  As a result, your investors and shareholders will be pleased with the bottom-line improvements, and your employees will want to stay so that together you can achieve all you ever dreamed.

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