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Proven Strategies to Design Leadership Development Training That Works

We’ve all heard the phrase, “People don’t leave a job, they leave a manager.” The question is, what makes them stay? 

In an employee’s market dominated by millennials, 65 percent of workers value a strong culture more than any other factor, including salary. A positive culture begins with strong leadership. If you want to avoid losing talent—and, even more critically, learn how to take greater control of your company’s trajectory—it’s vital to prioritize cultivating effective leadership strategies. 

But how do you approach this task? And how can you maintain your momentum to ensure that your efforts pay off? 

This was the topic of discussion in a recent webinar led by Jen Scopo, Senior Manager of Instructional Design at WorkRamp. During the virtual event, Jen shared tips on how to design and implement effective leadership training strategies, including: 

  • How to generate buy-in and get support for your leadership development initiative 
  • How to design and execute a phase-based leadership development program that accounts for the diverse needs and experience levels of your team 
  • Strategies for staying accountable and maintaining momentum 

Watch this SHRM-accredited webinar to receive one SHRM credit. 

Getting support: generating buy-in 

Without support from others, your vision won’t flourish. That’s why it all starts with generating buy-in—and buy-in starts at the top. Your first task is to get your executive leadership on-board with the idea that implementing a leadership development program will yield clear and worthwhile benefits, providing not only a return on their investment, but a return on their effort

So what are some tried-and-true methods to get the support you need? 

Of course, one strategy is to let hard data make your case for you—and there are numerous formulas and blog posts to help you calculate those figures. However, it’s important to go beyond numbers or logic and get the emotional buy-in as well—something that can be more challenging. 

To help you achieve this goal, Jen recommends utilizing an anonymous survey to gather actionable feedback about the leadership at your organization—something that really shows, ‘Hey, here’s our strengths and our opportunities in leadership.’ By shining a light on specific areas for improvement—and in turn, demonstrating the value of a leadership development program—this simple yet effective strategy can help you get the emotional buy-in you need. Combine this with hard data, and you have both the logical and psychological tools you need to get your entire team on-board. 

Making it manageable: tracks and phases 

Whether you’re building a leadership development program from scratch, or overhauling existing content, it can quickly become an overwhelming task—what Jen calls “paralysis by analysis.” That’s why she introduces the concept of tracks and phases, which, as she explains, are designed to make your tasks more manageable and provide a “clear starting point” that your team can jump from immediately.  


The tracks are essentially the personas that you’re looking to accommodate as you’re building this program. There are three distinct “personas” or tracks, which are differentiated by their professional backgrounds and experience levels: 

  • New Managers. This includes people who are managing for the first time, along with experienced managers who are new to your organization. 
  • Peer-to-Managers. These are employees who have transitioned, perhaps very recently, into leadership roles at your company. 
  • Advanced Managers. This track covers experienced managers. 

Each of these personas have unique needs—for instance, overcoming impostor syndrome for peer-to-managers—which is why it’s important to include a balance of niche and generalized content in your program. Jen recommends using an 80-20 approach:

  • 80% focused on universal leadership principles applicable to all three personas or tracks
  • 20% tailored to specific tracks

With that in mind, it’s important to communicate throughout training that what you are covering is relevant to all tracks, each of which will be able to apply the information. 


In addition to the three tracks or personas outlined above, such as new and experienced managers, there are also three phases to keep top-of-mind as you begin to map out your new leadership development plan: stop gaps, phase 1: core, and phase 2: comprehensive.

Stop gaps

Put simply, stop gaps are actions you can take immediately to get everyone focused on improving their leadership. For example, you can immediately begin identifying your core values (such as continuous improvement), then dissect how to apply them tactically in your daily leadership or management. “If you’re doing these [stop gaps],” Jen says, “you’re moving in the right direction and it might even give you more benchmark data to get that buy-in to build a more comprehensive program.”

Phase 1: Core

In Phase 1, you’ll begin building the core of your leadership development program, which means it will be more detailed and comprehensive than the preceding stop gaps. Start by identifying your defining philosophy and determine how you want your leaders to be perceived among their teams; then, cultivate vital soft skills like building trust, resolving conflict, and coaching employees effectively. 

Phase 2: Comprehensive

Phase 2 is a robust program designed to sharpen participants’ advanced soft skills, such as listening or leadership styles. This might involve, for instance, a 12- or 18-month recertification requirement for an in-person leadership development course. Jen also recommends using 360-degree feedback from employees, team members, and customers as a source of insight at this phase of your program. 

This strategy can be easily modified to suit the unique needs of your business—for example, by building up to your goals through a four- or five-phase approach, depending on what’s most helpful and appropriate for your team.   

Maintaining momentum: 3 strategies for accountability 

“We’ve all attended trainings where they’re exciting, they’re fun,” Jen says. “You go back to work and you’re like, ‘Yes, I can’t wait to do all of this!’ And in two weeks, you’re doing exactly what you did before.” 

Don’t panic if this sounds familiar. Instead, start implementing strategies to keep yourself and your leaders accountable—not just tomorrow or next week, but long after training concludes. By continuously putting accountability top-of-mind, your team will be positioned to maintain momentum and help ensure that your leadership development efforts are rewarded—something that’s also helpful for generating buy-in.

So how do you ensure (and sustain) accountability? Jen recommends three strategies—which, as she points out, take close to nothing on your part to really integrate and structure, but will make a huge difference in maintaining that momentum of the training. 

  • Reflection training. While not an assessment or test, reflection training does require participants to stop and figure out how they’re going to apply the leadership skills and methodologies they’ve developed.
  • Integration. Integrate concepts from your leadership training program into regular meetings, which is a quick and simple way to keep core values top-of-mind for your leadership. For example, you could try a weekly round robin. 
  • Learning pods. A learning pod is a group of workers, typically led by a senior or tenured staff member, who are assigned to complete tasks together. They meet at regular intervals, providing plentiful opportunities for discussions about how they’ve been executing core values. 

Bringing it all together

Here’s how you can synergize these elements to create your master plan: 

  • Start by outlining basic goals for your program—for instance, identify a target average rating, or determine what sort of feedback to seek out in your employee engagement survey. 
  • Determine the source for your content and how it will be delivered. Remember to prioritize topics by track and phase, which will help you allocate resources where they’re needed most. 
  • Remember to never stop generating enthusiasm among your team members. Even simple stop gap activities can help demonstrate the value and positive impact of a leadership development program. 

Empower your team with tools for leadership  

Data proves that culture matters to workers—and your leaders are your “culture keepers.” But leadership doesn’t just impact workplace culture or employee satisfaction—it determines the whole trajectory of your business. 

Put yourself on the path to success by empowering your team with tools to help them develop, hone, and maintain stronger management skills. Watch the on-demand webinar here and contact us to learn more about how WorkRamp can help you design leadership training that works.


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Emily Homrok

WorkRamp Contributor
Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter with over eight years of writing experience. She graduated from Drexel University in 2011.

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