Implementing a Leadership Development Program

Leadership development

With increased uncertainties in today’s business environment, the abilities of business leaders are in greater focus. Organizations need leaders who are adept at anticipating future challenges and initiating the appropriate responses. Today’s business realities make it imperative for companies to be resilient and agile to cope effectively with technology-driven workplace changes. To steer the business through this evolution effectively requires competent leaders at all levels.

However, there is no magic formula that guarantees a company successful leadership development. Only through careful planning and meticulous implementation can organizations craft leadership development programs that can achieve and sustain the desired results.

Table of Contents

What is leadership development?

Leadership development is a planned program of learning interventions designed to improve employees’ skills, competencies, and attitudes to prepare them to be future leaders. The term ‘leadership’ refers to positions in the organization that are required to steer the execution of business strategies by aligning employees, upskilling, and appropriately directing worker actions in attaining organizational goals.

Developing leaders is not a one-off activity but rather a continuous process. Leadership coaching is typically offered to managers, professionals in the early phases of their careers, recent promotees, employees facing challenging responsibilities, and workers aspiring to be managers. Leadership development involves four key areas:

  • Education

It is essential to have a sound foundation in the theoretical concepts of business to develop leadership skills. A conceptual understanding of the principles of product development, marketing and sales, and customer service is vital and must be an integral part of leadership development.

  • Experience

Every experience at work is a learning opportunity. Conceptual knowledge needs to be backed up by practical experience. Actual hands-on experience helps inculcate conceptual understanding, provides real-world insights, and imparts other intangible soft skills essential for effective leadership.

  • Exposure

Effective leadership development tools include opportunities to observe other leaders in action and imbibe the best aspects of their leadership styles and philosophies. Coaching and mentoring are some other tools that can provide future leaders with exposure to various leadership ideas and approaches. In addition, giving future leaders the chance to take on challenging assignments is a tried and tested method to impart real-world leadership lessons.

  • Evaluation

Assessing the current abilities and competency gaps of a company’s leaders is crucial to develop an effective leadership program. There are several leadership assessment tools available that can help assess current leadership competencies, set goals, gather data, assess results, and share insights. This can help to identify development needs and to plan suitable learning interventions for grooming future leaders.

Importance of leadership development for organizations

Leadership development programs help prepare leaders to drive employee engagement and deliver superior business results. A study published by Gartner in 2019 revealed that 45 per cent of managers felt they lacked the necessary skills to help improve the skills of other employees.

Leadership development programs help organizations:

  • Increase employee engagement

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report, only 21 per cent of the employees involved in the study were engaged at work. While there are other important factors, capable leadership is key to fostering engagement in the workforce. Effective leadership development programs will provide leaders with the skills to keep their employees engaged.

  • Reduce attrition

The ‘great resignation’ during the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant business disruption drove home the importance of controlling attrition for businesses. It is almost a cliche to say that employees do not leave organizations; they leave managers. The quality of leadership skills available in a company directly affects its attrition rate. Effective leadership development programs can address this problem.

  • Improve retention

The availability of opportunities for career advancement is an essential factor that prompts employees to leave their current organization. Leadership development programs can provide avenues for career progression and motivate employees to stay in the organization.

  • Enable professional growth

Periodic learning and development programs can help stave off stagnation in the professional skills of employees. Leadership development programs help employees acquire leadership competencies and motivate others to seek professional growth.

  • Ensure continuity in leadership

Leadership development programs help instill the organization’s values in its future generation of leaders. They are essential to succession planning and ensure continuity in leadership styles. As a result, junior employees have a more harmonious work environment rather than frequent changes in leadership styles and realignments in company values.

  • Attract top talent

Investing in leadership development shows employees that the company values their work and contributions. It enhances the organization’s corporate brand, which will then help to attract the best talent.

Impact of good leaders on teams and organizations

Good leaders impact the performance of the teams they lead and the organization they are a part of. Employees working with good leaders tend to be:

  • More engaged,
  • More productive, and
  • More satisfied with their work.

This ripple effect is felt across the entire organization, thus improving organizational performance and benefiting its bottom line. Good leaders make everyone and everything around them better.

Crafting a leadership development program

Implementing leadership development programs calls for considerable thought and planning since a development framework needs to be created. Repurposing the same development program for various roles, miscommunications of company culture, and failures to track and monitor progress can result in these programs not resonating with employees.

For a leadership development program to be effective, it should include:

  • Top-level support for the leadership development plan.
  • Alignment to organizational strategies, values, and goals.
  • Aspects based on employee feedback regarding their perceived roadblocks to effective performance; these can include leadership shortcomings.
  • Mentoring and coaching for on-the-job learning. This also helps faster assimilation of the attitudes and behaviors required of leaders.
  • Redesigns of team organization, management, and processes based on employee feedback.

Things to keep in mind while creating a leadership development program

These are the key factors to keep in mind while designing a leadership development program:

  • Focus on the behaviors that matter

While developing the program, integrate your company’s strategy into the program based on your specific context and needs. The program’s success largely depends on the training it provides on the factors identified as essential for business success. This could, for example, refer to the ability of the leadership to adapt to changes in the business environment.

  • Ensure reach across the organization

For leadership development programs to be successful, their message must permeate all levels in a company. Technology can facilitate this faster and help achieve more flexible learning at scale.

  • Aim for easy transfer of learning

Digital learning enables faster knowledge transfer by turning it into a part of the daily workflow. Design the program and the development framework to leverage technology such that the value of the teaching realized by the organization is maximized.

  • Embed the change

Often, development programs fail because learners learn new skills but soon revert to old practices. The organization must quickly change the supporting systems and processes to prevent this from happening. Appropriate changes must also be made to performance management systems, talent management systems, and leadership coaching to help employees imbibe the required changes.

Implementing a leadership development program

Designing an effective leadership development program is only half the job done. The real test lies in the correct implementation of the program. The steps involved in implementing a leadership development program are as follows:

  • Define the organization’s leadership needs

To begin with, identify the specific leadership gaps that exist or are likely to arise. Take into account the short and long-term strategic goals and the leadership traits that are crucial for your organizational goals. The leadership needs will also depend on the company’s current stage of growth; requirements will vary for companies in the growth stage, those that implement cost-cutting, those targeting higher employee productivity, and so on. Aligning the company’s business priorities with its leadership training needs will increase the development program’s effectiveness.

  • Do not train, develop

Leaders cannot be made; they have to be developed. While implementing leadership development programs, participants will be placed in situations requiring them to exercise critical thinking. Role-playing, simulations, mentoring, coaching, job rotations, and job shadowing are some of the proven methods used for developing leaders. Classroom training could also form a part of the formal process.

An essential but often overlooked part of the development process is feedback from senior managers, who may also act as role models. Good leaders always have an eye on the big picture. The development program should encourage participants to stretch themselves beyond their current capabilities, think along new lines and adapt to unfamiliar situations.

  • Identify the right leaders

The most crucial step is identifying the right people for a leadership development program. Organizations trip up in this step by focusing only on top performers. Keep an open mind and widen the funnel to identify employees with the potential to shine if given the opportunity. For this, it is essential to ensure every employee in a company is aware of the leadership development programs it offers.

  • Do not lose focus on retention

It is vital to align a company’s development activities with its retention strategies to identify capable employees with the potential to be groomed for leadership roles. Offering such employees compensation to match their increased skills is one retention strategy. Periodically meeting these identified leaders to gain feedback on their satisfaction and engagement levels also helps. Such staff members need to be engaged frequently, even after the completion of the development program, to ensure their retention.

  • Monitor and track effectiveness

Before the roll-out of a leadership development program, determine the metrics you will use to monitor and measure the program’s success and impact. The metrics could include:

  • The number of participants who complete the program.
  • The number of participants who are promoted after the program.
  • Feedback from superiors and peers on the effectiveness of participants as leaders after the program.

Pitfalls to avoid during implementation

Organizations can develop capable leaders, save time and money, and increase engagement by avoiding common pitfalls in implementing leadership development programs. These pitfalls include:

  • Ignoring context

Context, together with ability, determines leadership success. For example, a leader who successfully steers a company during its growth phase might fail to handle a business downturn or a recession.

  • Decoupling training from hands-on work

A leadership coaching program must push its participants to hone their skills through practice. Training sessions that do not offer opportunities to apply what they teach in real-world situations will lead to an ineffective development program.

  • Not paying attention to attitudes

Attitude determines why people behave the way they do. Leadership is as much about attitude as it is about skills. A development program should identify underlying thoughts and perspectives to bring about a positive attitudinal change among employees.

  • Not measuring results

Failing to track, monitor, and measure performance changes leads to a development program’s failure. Results could be measured through 360-degree feedback, career progression of the program participants, business impact brought about by the participants, and more.

Updating a leadership development program

Leadership development programs are updated based on their effectiveness. The effectiveness itself is measured based on:

  • Learner reaction: Feedback is assessed on the satisfaction felt by participants with their training.
  • Learning outcomes: Participants are assessed based on 360-degree feedback, completion rates, course pass rates, skill application surveys, and more.
  • Behavior change: Here, behavioral changes in participants are measured to assess the transfer of training to on-job performance.
  • Business results: This involves measuring the program’s impact on the business’s bottom line.

Based on the measurement of its effectiveness, a leadership development program can be updated to bring about positive improvements during future sessions.

How can uExcelerate help?

Finding the best program to boost leadership skills in your company may involve some trial and error. However, with the help of uExcelerate, you can create leadership programs that prepare leaders to excel in their responsibilities and lead employees to increased productivity.

uExcelrate’s AI-powered SaaS platform powers coaching at scale to help organizations build programs to develop strong management skills in talented employees. Interested in learning more about our platform? Click here to book a demo!

Payal Koul Mirakhur

Payal Koul Mirakhur