What is Leadership Development and Why is it Important?
December 16, 2022
The biggest misconception people make about leadership: people are born as great leaders.
Leadership is not a natural, inherent trait—influential leaders are cultivated and trained.
Unfortunately, most organizations don’t put enough effort and resources into leadership development. A shocking 59 percent of those managing one or two employees and 41 percent of those managing up to five employees have received no leadership training.
This lack of training can have a negative impact on an organization. A 2020 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey found that among U.S. workers, 84 percent say poorly-trained managers cause unnecessary stress and extra work.
On the other hand, excellent leadership development results in managers that attract, retain, and inspire great team members.
What is a leadership development program?
Leadership development is a training process focusing on instilling leadership skills in your team members. This training prepares team members to take on leadership roles, from junior manager to the highest-level executive.
Leadership development teaches vital skills to help your employees become better leaders, such as:
- Written and spoken communication
- Conflict resolution
- Delegation and time management
- Managing corrective action and having tough conversations
- Coaching & employee development
- Motivating teams and employees
- Promoting teamwork
The best leadership training will be flexible and personalized to match the needs of each individual. For example, this might mean creating microlearning modules on your learning platform so new or existing leaders can access tips for approaching a specific challenge. You can also create a training program that adds or removes modules depending on a person’s unique strengths and weaknesses.
It’s also important to include group learning opportunities, job shadowing, and mentoring whenever possible. Including multimodal learning, methods that will help everyone get the most out of the leadership development process.
Remember, your team wants these opportunities. For example, among Millennials, 91 percent aspire to reach leadership positions, and 55 percent wish their employers offered better leadership development opportunities.
How does a leadership development program help grow your business?
Effective leadership development positively impacts your teams, and these effects trickle down to every area of your organization.
The 2020 SHRM survey found that 57 percent of U.S. workers believe their managers could benefit from training in people management, and half of the workers say their work would improve if their manager’s skills were better.
Better financial results
The better the leadership in your organization, the better your financial performance will be as a company. First, great leaders help you attract and retain top talent. Team members feel important and see a future at your company. Reducing turnover saves your organization money.
Secondly, when your leaders understand how to motivate their teams, you’ll have better productivity. Employees will be more engaged, take pride in their work, and be more inclined to work together. This can increase morale, as employees will likely go above and beyond to create excellent results.
Finally, great leaders can help you navigate challenges, which can help teams stay on track and maintain productivity even in difficult times.
A more talented team
A strong leadership development program is a selling point for talented candidates. You can use this and the changes it creates within your company to win top talent in a competitive market.
Excellent employee development helps you retain team members because they understand their goals and career paths. Employees are more focused and engaged when they have clear goals and objectives.
A more adaptable, strategic organization
It goes without saying that great leaders make better decisions. When you develop leadership talent, your organization will be better equipped to execute strategic plans, more adept at implementing change, and more adaptable to changing business environments.
Leaders can learn the art of influence to impact people beyond their direct reports, which can help drive an organization forward. Great leaders also avoid silos and create connections throughout the organization to cooperate on a larger scale.
An effective leadership development program will help your company excel regardless of your challenges.
What are the elements that make up a strong leadership development program?
What should your leadership development program include? Of course, the details will vary based on your specific needs, but in a broad sense, an excellent program will have the following elements.
Experienced coaching or mentoring
We learn best when we see what others are doing and adapt it for ourselves. This strategy is great if the person we’re learning from has the proper habits, but it can be disastrous otherwise.
Choosing the right coach or mentor for your upcoming leaders is essential. You want to point developing team members in the right direction, which means having high-quality leaders to learn from.
You can also bring in carefully chosen coaches from outside your organization, but ensure they understand your culture. Learning leadership techniques that can’t be applied in your environment isn’t a good investment.
Read more: How to Create a Coaching Culture
Learning new skills can be challenging because new leaders don’t know what they don’t know. A foundational skill development curriculum in your organization lets you train your leaders internally using the best practices that make the most sense for your company.
You can have a formal training program with classroom teaching, an online training program using a learning platform, or a combination of both.
Having long-form training and short, bite-sized topical modules can be helpful. That way, it’s easy for someone to get more details on something they didn’t understand or get advice to apply to an immediate situation they’re facing.
PartnerHero is a multinational company that provides business process outsourcing (BPO). They use WorkRamp to train new leaders, develop skills, and create a culture of learning that keeps employees engaged.
“With an easy-to-use, effective, and enjoyable learning platform like WorkRamp, we can create a culture of learning that targets the whole employee, with skill development, fitness, DE&I, mental health, stress management, and more,” says Robyn Barton, Global Director of Talent Development for PartnerHero. “This helps them develop their professional skills and progress toward achieving their personal goals while feeling more connected and engaged with the PartnerHero community.”
The right training can help leaders excel in their roles, from communication to hard skills.
Accountability and goals
Finally, goal-setting and accountability are vital to your leadership development program. Leaders are responsible for helping their teams and departments set and achieve goals, so learning how to do this themselves is essential.
The training program can help new leaders take on projects, set growth milestones, and more, and then learn to take accountability for how things turn out.
Launching a leadership development strategy
The benefits of leadership development are significant. However, like many things, you cannot go from 0 to 100 in a single day. So, as you launch a leadership development program, here are some factors to consider.
Developing senior-level support
Your program must have leadership support to be successful. For your team members to feel confident taking on new responsibilities, they must know they will not be ignored, undercut, or otherwise not supported by senior leadership.
Unfortunately, some team members see leadership development as threatening their authority and position. The key is to help these people understand the benefits of leadership development to their roles.
For example, they may be able to move up in the organization, or they may have more capable leaders under them that make their job easier, helping them to excel.
You can also talk to executives about the benefits of leadership development when it comes to succession planning and performance management, both of which are important priorities to upper management.
It may seem obvious on the surface that developing better leaders within your organization— and improving employee retention, productivity, and profitability—is a good investment. However, you still need to make a clear business case.
Create a clear, compelling case and present it to executive leadership, just as you would for any other project. Then, track metrics and provide consistent updates so your C-suite understands that the positive results are being realized.
Then, next year when it’s time for corporate planning, do it all over again. When you don’t take your personnel and budget for granted, you’ll be better prepared to answer objections and make a strong case. You’ll also notice when the leadership development program could improve with additional investment and be able to lobby for that as well.
Understand your competitors’ leadership development
It’s well-known that when you study your competitors, you can learn best practices that help you improve your processes. That’s why almost every car manufacturer has adopted Toyota’s lean, just-in-time manufacturing processes.
Understanding your competitors’ leadership programs can help you improve your own. It can also help you retain team members by offering opportunities that are at least as good as what your competitors will offer.
Measure the success of your leadership program
Finally, you’ll need to consider how to measure your success in leadership development. Your leadership will be most interested in distilling your results down into two categories: impact and ROI.
For example, you could measure manager performance and see how those metrics improve. You can also look at how many people complete various leadership training programs and their feedback about the training.
Finally, measure how your leadership development program addresses and impacts specific business goals, such as employee retention, sales success, cost savings, and more.
Measuring these elements can be challenging, but if you try to be perfectly accurate, you’ll never get started. So instead, use measurement processes that keep errors low and give a realistic sense of your success.
Leadership development techniques
How do you create an effective leadership development program? Like all learning processes, it starts with understanding where you’re starting and then providing the information and practice that people need to improve. You then measure the results and look for changes.
Here are just a few of the tools you might use:
- Assessment exams to measure current skills and knowledge
- Personality tests to help participants understand how different people think and function
- Online and class-based learning to allow developing leaders to learn about and practice new skills
- 360-degree feedback to measure leadership performance at multiple levels
- Coaching or mentoring from internal or external advisors
- Training on emotional intelligence to help leaders manage emotions at work
- Stretch assignments that move new leaders out of their comfort zone and help them learn about the business in a new way
These techniques can be used in various ways. For example, how you move forward will depend on your organization’s goals, the level of investment in leadership development, company culture, and your stakeholders’ input.
Setting leadership development goals
As you dive into creating a leadership development program, you’ll discover dozens of leadership skills and hundreds of ways to develop them. So how do you know where to start?
Start by thinking about your organization’s core goals and how your leadership development process can support them.
For example, suppose staff turnover is a significant issue. In that case, you could focus your initial leadership development on creating managers that acknowledge outstanding performance and support employees’ professional goals, along with creating new opportunities in the organization.
You’ll also want to set goals for participants, so they know what’s expected and will be motivated to apply the information they learn.
Invest in your employees to become tomorrow’s leaders
When you invest in your team, you’re using learning as a growth engine for your organization. The new skills that your leaders learn, practice, and apply will help your company perform every aspect of business better—marketing, selling, customer service, generating revenue, and increasing profitability.
When the people who power your business—employees, partners, and customers—have access to the best learning opportunities, they become unstoppable.
Learn more about how WorkRamp can help you create leadership training to empower your employees to excel. Contact us to schedule a free, personalized demo.
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Anna SpoonerFreelance Writer
Anna Spooner is a digital strategist and marketer with over 11 years of experience. She writes content for various industries, including SaaS, medical and personal insurance, healthcare, education, marketing, and business. She enjoys the process of putting words around a company’s vision and is an expert at making complex ideas approachable and encouraging an audience to take action.
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