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How to Create a Successful Leadership Development Program

Beth Thornton

August 16, 2019

Leadership development programs are often overlooked and underfunded, leaving potentially great future leaders without the training or mentorship they need for a smooth transition to leadership roles.

You may have a program in place already, but does it make the impact your organization needs and wants? Are you wondering how to create a program that enables employees to thrive in their current positions, while preparing for their next step in the organization?

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Here are some things to consider to help you create the best possible leadership program for both your current and future leaders.

Step 1: Start By Implementing Your Company Values

Quick Quiz:

  • Do employees at all levels know our values?
  • Do employees at all levels incorporate our values in their day-to-day work?
  • Does our organization use our values as a guide when making decisions?
  • Does our organization highlight and celebrate our values?

If you answered no to one or more of these questions, it’s time to revisit your values and how you’ve implemented them. Don’t be afraid to revisit the significant role values play in the long term success of your organization. Values should be the foundation of any successful organization. They deserve the intentional time and effort to ensure they are integrated into the operations of your business.

Even the best leadership development programs can’t cultivate successful leaders within your organization if you haven’t clearly defined your values and incorporated them into your leadership development training and evaluation strategy.

You’ll need to start by critically examining your existing values and mission to determine if they are still an accurate representation of who and what your organization is and wants to be. You may find it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Once you have clarified values, you’ll have the foundation of your leadership development training program.

This fine-tuning process ensures that your training program creates not just successful leaders, but successful leaders who have the skills and attributes that align with those of your company. This process also creates engaged and loyal employees who exemplify company values.

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To Do:

  • Revisit your values and mission statement. Evaluate whether they reflect your organization properly.
  • Make changes if your values are out of date.
  • Use your organizational values as the foundation for your leadership development training program.

Step 2: Create Measurable Goals For Your Leadership Development Program

Once you’ve clarified your values, it’s time to create goals for your leadership development program. What exactly do you expect from a leadership strategy? How will you determine if this program was effective or not? These may seem like redundant questions, but the truth is many organizations have difficulty evaluating the effectiveness of initiatives that take place over a long period of time.

To Do: Choose the right leadership development curriculum. Some organizations try to save money by developing a program in house, and in many cases, the skills are relevant but not necessarily aligned to researched based and time-tested practices. Investigate a comprehensive leadership development curriculum that sets the context for the leadership skills you plan to train and evaluate in your organization. Decide how you’ll measure the success of your program either through qualitative data through surveys or a modern and evolving quantitative data that actually tracks and leadership behaviors for deeper insights into leadership effectiveness.

Step 3: Make A “Wish List” For Your Leadership Development Program

What attributes do you want your program to consist of? What leadership competencies align with your organization’s values? Company leaders should brainstorm ideas and compile a list of leadership behaviors they’d like to see manifest in your organization. This list can be quite long and doesn’t have to reflect the offerings of any leadership development programs during this process. Identify what an A+ leadership development training program would look like without considering constraints like budget, time to implement, and technology needs.

If you have an existing leadership development program, another way to look at this exercise is to ask yourself, “Where are the gaps in our current leadership development program and how could we improve on or supplement what we have already done to develop our leaders?”

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Quick Tip: Include employees at all levels in this brainstorming period. Ask employees what type of leadership skills would help them improve in their role with the organization. It’s not only thoughtful to do this, but it’ll truly help you build a better program that targets the specific needs of your organization.

Step 4: Adaptable On-Demand Leadership Development

The best leadership development programs require vision. Leadership issues of today are not the same issues of tomorrow. In today’s knowledge-based economy, business strategy and the skills needed to execute that strategy can change at the speed of a new software release or a technology upgrade. Think about your organization's long-term goals, making sure to align them to your client’s goals and the rapidly evolving market needs. Make sure your leadership development program can support those goals and the execution of those goals.

For example, if your organization is projected to grow quickly over the next couple of years – is your leadership development program cut out to build leaders quickly? Will you be able to scale your leadership development program across the bigger organization? Do you have a program that trains and applies necessary skills on demand, in the flow of everyday work?

Quick Tip: Choose a Leadership Development program that adapts to your organization’s needs and strategy. Do you have a leadership development program that is aligned across every level of the organization? Can you train and develop new leaders quickly and effectively? Do you have a leadership development program that develops leaders from within the organization?

Step 5: Shape Your Leaders - Do Not Force Them Into A Mold

Not every employee has the necessary skill set to lead. Not every employee is interested in leading. Some of your current leaders aren’t interested in expanding upon or further developing the current leadership skills they already have. Commonly, an employee may be thrown into a new position, with little interest or knowledge in leading, while others crave to be in a leadership role but lack the confidence or know-how to be promoted. Others may have been great individual contributors and thought that would translate into being an effective leader, only to quickly realize that what helped them as an individual employee is very different than the skills needed to develop others to be successful.

Create a leadership program to help leaders develop their skills based on where they are at with their current leadership skill sets. Whether individuals need preparation for a leadership role or would simply like to learn how to become an excellent team member, your program should help shape all team members into the role and type of employee they want to be, rather than simply force every employee to be a leader. Leadership happens in different contexts, and one of the most overlooked contexts is in the context of your individual role.

Shaping leaders and team members is not a one size fits all process. Improving the program you have now, and evolving it into a program to support ongoing development for employees will ensure your organization is never short on excellent leaders. Develop a program that is inclusive for your co-workers' strengths, weaknesses, and interests.

Leaders aren’t manufactured, they have to be nurtured and developed, even while in a leadership role. Think about how your leadership development program can put future leaders into situations that help them grow and learn as an ongoing practice, rather than a one time or annual event.

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To Do: Create a program that doesn’t force employees into a specific mold, but allows them to expand on their existing talents. Make sure that your leadership development program takes into consideration the different contexts of leadership, not just executive and managerial leadership.

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Step 6: Integrate Leadership Development Into Your Culture

Your leadership development program should be deeply ingrained into your culture. Leadership development and company culture have a symbiotic relationship — they are closely tied to one another. When positive leadership development training is taking place at all levels of the organization, company culture will improve. You’ll likely see absenteeism and turnover decrease and engagement increase.

Consider the far-reaching effects that successful leaders have had at your organization and what it could mean for your company to develop a goal-oriented culture that goes hand-in-hand with your leadership programs.

Quick Tip: Think about the big picture and how leadership development aligns with and enhances organizational culture. Don’t rush this step. It’s critical that effective leadership isn’t just a nice thing to have, but is a viable business strategy that is critical, not only to the execution of corporate strategy but also the health and vitality of the people that execute that strategy--your employees

Step 7: Choose A Leadership Platform

Creating a leadership development program can be difficult, but it shouldn’t be like reinventing the wheel. Do your self a favor and don’t go at it alone. This is where leadership development software comes in.

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After doing the heavy lifting of steps one through five, don’t rush this step. It’s absolutely crucial that you find a way to ensure that your investment in leadership development is applied through day-to-day business. Software is one of the best ways to ensure the integration of leadership practices in your organization. Whether it is through your goal setting or performance management software, make sure that you are able to apply and analyze the leadership skills that matter most to your organization, through viable software solutions.

When researching software solutions for your leadership development initiatives, solicit demos, ask questions, and keep in mind your “wish list” items you deemed as deal-breakers. Weigh the pros and cons of leadership software solutions carefully.

Quick Tip: Employees want to grow and develop, and there’s always a need for new leaders to step up and inherit the important role leadership plays in your organization. Make sure you’re ready for changes in leadership with a program that adapts to your needs and ensure your new leaders transition smoothly to their new roles.

It’s essential to keep leadership development continually going and be able to measure the results of your efforts at an organization, department, team, and individual level. One of the best ways to measure real behaviors in real-time is through effective software solutions.

Inspire Software’s leadership development programs ensures your employees are ready for the next step in their career and continues to help them along the way. Their software has a comprehensive framework that provides you with things like integrated leadership approach to empower your employees. Inspire helps you determine precisely what your company needs in a leader and helps you build a program based off of that criteria.

Inspire Software prepares your team with software that knows and understands your organizational goals and culture. We exist to help you build the best leaders and motivated teams, and we can work with you to find the strategy that’s right for you.