How Businesses Can Build a Successful Leadership Development Program

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An organization is often defined by the quality of its leaders. When leaders are not appropriately prepared for higher-level positions, they can reduce productivity and morale across the organization, cause high employee turnover and ultimately cause a business to fail. It is imperative to continue to develop leadership skills through training or development programs.

Plenty of businesses do offer leadership development programs to their employees. Within the past decade, U.S. companies have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on leadership development, and in 2020, companies dedicated an average of $176 per year per employee. Yet, even as spending on leadership development increases, many leaders remain dissatisfied with the training they receive.

Yet, research shows that the vast majority of leadership development does little to impact how a leader functions. Often, leadership development programs last for such a brief period and neglect to provide participants with valuable tools and information. Thus, regardless of how empowered participants might feel during and immediately after their leadership training, most will not be able to implement what they have learned in the real-world business environment.

Is it possible for organizations to invest in leadership development that works in the long term? Yes, but they need to focus on building a program includes the following key concepts:

Context

Not all leaders excel in all environments. Some leaders are well-suited to making decisions when markets are growing; other leaders are more adept at providing direction during economic downturns. However, plenty of leadership development is one-size-fits-all — that any leader can leverage any knowledge or skill for the betterment of their employer. As a result, organizations struggle to train leaders in the exact skills and knowledge they need to achieve their specific goals.

A successful leadership development program takes into consideration its context within a business. In the earliest stages of creating a leadership initiative, organizations need to determine their objectives for the endeavor: Do they need leaders to support an acquisition-led growth strategy? Do they hope to capture organic opportunities? Do they merely want to improve their sales performance? In each case, a business needs to create a specific program that teaches its leaders (present and future) precisely how to handle each situation so they are prepared for multiple scenarios.

Practicality

There is undeniable value in off-site leadership programs, especially executive education online provided by prestigious universities and taught by some of the world’s top leadership experts. Short courses of this variety give aspirational leaders an opportunity to prepare for high-level roles, even when their current employer fails to provide a development program of their own, which is remarkably common in small and medium-sized organizations.

Studies have found that students typically retain between 5 and 10 percent of the information offered to them in lectures, but when given the opportunity to learn while doing so, students can hold onto 75 percent or more of the knowledge and skill presented through training. Thus, it is imperative that organizations utilize leadership development courses with practical components, which allow them to apply their new knowledge and skill to real-life scenarios. 

Mindset

Individuals’ behavior is the result of a foundation of thoughts, feelings, assumptions and beliefs. An individual’s unique philosophy is created through a lifetime of experiences, and it can be difficult for others to fully understand the nuances of another person’s mindset, particularly how that mindset affects their actions inside the workplace.

Yet, it is imperative that leadership development programs work to identify its participants’ underlying mindsets with the goal of altering unproductive attitudes and promoting proper behaviors. For example, leadership programs intent on instilling the importance of delegation and employee empowerment are unlikely to see much change in a participant who has a controlling mindset. Organizations need to recognize that it is imperative to adjust a leader’s outlook by engendering different values. Otherwise, the information offered in leadership development programs will have little effect.

Business leaders determine whether a business will succeed or fail, so organizations should be invested in the skills and knowledge of their leaders. By building more effective leadership development programs through context, practical training and appropriate mindsets, businesses can train a generation of leaders who know how to create organizational success.