How to Create a Leadership Development Program for your Business

The Leadership Development Factbook 2014: Benchmarks and Trends in U.S. Leadership Development, produced for Bersin by Deloitte reveals that Leadership continues to be the number one Human Capital concern for businesses[1]. As organizations struggle with leadership gaps at all management levels, the report shows businesses responding with more leadership development spending. Small companies saw the largest spending growth in leadership development initiatives (on average) – up 23% from 2013.

If you are one of those businesses seeking to “prime the pump” of leadership talent, here are some do’s and don’ts of creating an effective Leadership Development Program.


Map the Competencies That Are Needed

Design your Leadership Program so it develops the skills and talents that best serve the company that is executing it. Create a core competency map that helps employees understand what skills they need to develop to advance. It also helps managers identify candidates for training who are likely to be successful[2].

Identify the Right Candidates

A successful Leadership Development Program cherry-picks and then invests in those employees that are most likely be ready when gaps open. The method for this weeding-out process, however, varies greatly from company to company. Some aggressively promote internally and train leaders as they step up the ladder. Others take an egalitarian approach and offer training to all employees with the mindset that their “stars” will rise to the top.

However a business approaches development, it is important to continue staff development efforts even if there are no current openings. It’s too late to start development the day a gap appears[3].

Train for the Future

Create your development plan to address the future skills and needs of the business. For example, a company that plans to expand internationally may want to prepare by offering global leadership development and train employees to anticipate cultural differences in the new market.


Forget the End

When you take time to identify specific skills your employees need to meet specific business objectives, then you avoid the common trap of training too broadly. You also need to connect the dots and identify what success looks like so that the program can be measured. As the needs of the business changes the scope and emphasis of your development program should also change.

Restrict Learning to a Classroom

Make sure there is a real connection to the work of the business in any development program. Give employees who have been targeted as high-potential individuals the opportunity to try out their new skills. Incorporate mentor shadowing or offer opportunities to take on pilot projects that reinforce the proficiencies you want demonstrated.

Shy Away from Difficult Changes

Some problems can’t be addressed without a fundamental change of mindset. It is easy to understand the concept of delegating tasks more efficiently. However, it’s something else to correct a fundamental unwillingness to “let go” of control and hand over tasks. Developing leaders who are capable of rising to the executive level requires the hard, sometimes painful, work of unlearning bad habits and instilling new ones[4].

Forget to Enjoy the Results

The expense and time investment in creating a leadership development or succession program pays off when managers advance smoothly into more challenging leadership roles and companies avoid empty positions and overworked employees. CareerBuilder estimates that employers lose $14,000, on average, for every job that stays vacant for three months or longer[5]. Developing talent with the specific skills that your business needs means fewer vacant positions and more employees that are motivated by a work environment that offers opportunity.