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How to Create an Effective Leadership Development Plan (and Why You Should)
tiempo de lectura
June 1, 2023
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Leadership quality can make or break an organization. Choose the wrong leader, and you could drive your best talent straight out of the door into the open arms of your competitors.
But a great leader will inspire and motivate your team, helping each employee to reach their full potential and progress in their career.
So, how do we find people with excellent leadership skills who will make a positive difference?
Unfortunately, it's not as easy as you'd think.
Only 10% of people are natural-born leaders, but you can train another 20% to become high-quality leaders when you have a structured development plan in place.
🌱 What is leadership development?
Leadership development is a long-term business strategy where employees prepare for future managerial and leadership roles. At the heart of a leadership development strategy is a plan which will outline the competencies each employee requires to become a leader. It will also include learning objectives and goals to meet.
"Each person has unlimited potential and can flourish in the right environment. They have huge reservoirs of creativity that can be unleashed to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and achieve business goals."
- Brian Tracy, motivational speaker and author of "Leadership."
🎯 Leadership development goals
But what do you want your next generation of leaders to excel at? Define your leadership goals before pinpointing suitable candidates to work toward them. For inspiration, the World Economic Forum predicts the most important soft skills required by the workforce in 2025 - check them out to help you form specific leadership goals. 👇
❓ Why should you create leadership development plans?
Following a leadership development plan has clear benefits for employees who want to progress in their careers. But there are fantastic advantages for companies too.
Pipeline of business leaders
Development plans are a massive part of succession planning, ensuring you always have capable future leaders waiting in the wings. This is especially important during times of crisis and in competitive markets.
Melissa Lanier Preston, Director of Leadership Development and Talent Management of T-Mobile, explains,
"The talent pipeline is really the lifeblood of the frontline. We need to have people who can step into store manager roles or coach roles and the call center. So the leaders are focused on finding talent and developing those people."
Improve employee engagement
Leadership development is also heavily linked to employee engagement and retention across numerous studies. Cisco's internal surveys reveal that "skilled and effective managers are an important factor in employee retention." This point is echoed by Deloitte who found a 35% difference in leadership trust between employees who wanted to leave the company, compared to those who wanted to stay.
Jacob Morgan, the author of "The Future Leader," explains how leaders are integral to the employee experience.
"No one starts out hating their job or their boss. We all show up on the first day of a new job, excited about fresh opportunities and joining a great new company. But over time, things start to change. What happens to turn that excited new employee into a jaded and unengaged veteran employee?
Creating a great employee experience means involving employees, listening to them, empowering them, and treating them like individuals. By focusing on creating an engaging and empowering experience, we can have employees who are still excited to come to work, no matter how long they've been with the company."
Accelerate DEI progress
A well-thought-out leadership program can complement your focus on DEI, which is a top consideration for HR departments. 76% of employees and job seekers say a diverse workforce is essential when evaluating companies and job offers. Not only should an inclusive leadership culture be prioritized, but this can filter down to encourage DEI throughout the entire workforce.
But research from Russell Reynolds Associates finds that two of the biggest barriers to DEI are a lack of clear goals and accountability from leadership. Overcome both with a strategic leadership development plan centered on diversity, equity, and inclusivity.
⚙️ How to create a leadership development plan
Each company will have a slightly different approach to leadership development but expect these 5 components to form the foundation of a plan.
1. Define what leadership means
Step one is to review your business objectives and clarify exactly what leadership means to your organization. What skills does your company require now vs. the type of leader you want in the future?
Use a competency model including technical competencies (knowledge specific to your industry or role). However, the most in-demand leadership competencies are soft leadership skills such as:
- Ability to coach
- Engaging employees
- Strategic planning
- Fostering commitment
2. Identify your leadership candidates
Once you have a vision of your future leaders, pinpoint the candidates you'd like to invest development resources in. Use 1:1 meetings to discuss leadership opportunities with these candidates to check if your vision aligns with their own career paths.
Although there are no promises, this Robert Walters white paper reveals that employees are happier to continue working for a company that values them and offers a clear path of progression.
3. Define your leadership goals and objectives
What are the top priorities for your company? Draw from your list of competencies to create a direction for your leaders to take.
Remember: development goals are typically broad and long-term. They're the end-point you want your leaders to reach. Whereas objectives are the smaller, actionable steps, they will take before reaching the finish line and achieving the goal.
For example, if your goal is to "become more resilient," this is vague. To create an actionable leadership development goal, break it down into a series of attainable objectives, such as:
- Committing to weekly coaching sessions and taking feedback onboard
- Attending regular peer-based roundtable discussions to strengthen trust and relationships
- Practicing mindfulness and self-care to remain resilient inside and outside of work.
4. Choose your methods of development
Depending on your organization's size, scope, and type of employees, you might include a mix of some of the following development training methods.
- Microlearning - bite-sized pieces of development training delivered regularly.
- Peer-to-peer learning - roundtable discussions brainstorming challenges and solutions.
- Leader mentorship - contact and job-shadowing with existing leaders.
- Job rotations - your leaders can gain on-the-job experience in multiple business areas.
- Instructor-led training sessions - in a virtual or classroom setting.
- Professional certifications - where technical accreditations are required.
5. Measure your leadership program results
How will you know if the leadership program is successful? You might measure:
- Time - has a leadership candidate completed their training by X date?
- Percentage - where 100% is the readiness of a candidate to step into a leadership role.
- Numeric - measure the ROI of your leadership program or the improvement in employee retention rates after a leader has taken the reins.
6. Know your people's leadership styles
As leadership development plans are tailored to the individual in training, there's room to consider varying leadership styles and how you might use them in different situations.
- Autocratic leaders don't encourage input from team members. This is helpful when quick decisions are required but isn't a popular strategy for modern-day inclusive business environments.
- Authoritative leaders are highly confident and will take their time to set expectations and explain their reasoning behind key decisions.
- Pacesetting leaders set the bar high and push their team members to succeed. This is great for driven employees who can handle this "tough love" approach to leadership. But it can also induce stress.
- Democratic leaders are keen to involve their employees and ask their opinions. It's a great way to nurture creativity and teamwork.
- Coaching leaders provide direction to help employees find their inner capabilities and reach their full potential.
- Affiliative leaders are highly in tune with the emotional needs of their employees. Expect affiliative types to prioritize collaboration and conflict resolution.
- Laissez-faire leaders have absolute trust in the skills and talents of their team members. They're happy to leave employees to make their own decisions but use regular check-ins to keep everyone aligned.
Micro-session: ♥️💪🧠 Are you heart, will, or head?
➡️ Looking for more sessions like this? Get a demo and we'll show you!
⚠️ What are the challenges of leadership development plans?
Leadership development programs cover a $366 billion global industry - that's big business! But despite the drive to offer comprehensive development opportunities for emerging leaders, many programs don't achieve the desired success. Why? Because of one of the following roadblocks.
1. The program isn't engaging
The traditional Powerpoint presentations found in training programs are boring. Candidates have short attention spans and want to get to the important information fast, which is where micro lessons are an excellent alternative.
"Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began), the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds."
The content of your program must also stay relevant and may need to be adapted each year in line with the changing direction of your company.
2. The program hasn't adapted to your remote or hybrid setup
What does your existing leadership program look like, and has it adapted to any recent changes to your business model, such as a move to remote or hybrid working?
Adejoke Adeboyejo, an HR tech writer, explains,
"Most young people entering the workplace now completed their degrees via Zoom, and many have started working remotely, and in some cases, hybrid. Companies must devise ways to ensure that these young people learn leadership and other workplace skills that cannot be imbibed remotely."
A leadership development program isn't scalable until you've addressed this issue.
3. The program isn't attracting the right people
HR departments can struggle to attract high-potential candidates to join a professional development program. This may come down to how you frame the invitation.
An HBR study sampled 530 US working adults who hadn't taken a leadership development course previously. They presented the sample group with two possibilities:
Option 1: A program that "would help students become leaders who make effective decisions."
Option 2: A program that "would help students learn and improve leadership skills like effective decision-making."
The results? The survey participants considered option 1 more challenging, so they were less interested in signing up for this course compared to option 2.
4. The program doesn't provide context
What works for one organization may not be relevant for another so remember that leadership development programs should not be based on a "one size fits all" model. To produce the best outcome, zone in on the key competencies that leaders in your business specifically require.
Example: a European retail bank improved productivity by focusing on one leadership skill - the ability to persuade and motivate peers outside of formal reporting lines. Sales managers in the bank persuaded IT department managers to change systems and processes that the sales team found time-consuming and unproductive. By implementing technical sales-acceleration measures, bank productivity rose by 15%.
Make sure your development program provides context so your leadership candidates will apply similar learning techniques to real-life situations.
🏢 Examples of leadership development plans
We've dug out these examples of successful leadership plans from companies worldwide.
Freeletics based their learning development program on the main challenges the company faced: people don't have enough time to train nor have regular 1:1s with new leaders. Equally, they found people quickly lost their knowledge following training and didn't have the chance to use the information practically.
Zavvy's learning experience team created three distinct programs to help Freeletics leaders succeed and overcome these hurdles.
- Microlearning - bite-sized challenges and reminders as part of a larger practical framework.
- People Manager Roundtable - peer-to-peer opportunity to share best practices and discuss challenges.
- Leadership Onboarding - an in-depth program helping new leaders to learn processes, principles, and access resources.
In 2016, internal feedback from T-Mobile was clear - employees were unsure about career opportunities at the company, including not understanding which roles existed across the organization. T-Mobile responded by creating 4,000 job titles that fit into job families across 5 different operating groups.
T-Mobile also hosted a virtual career event, including:
- role overview videos
- career advice from leaders and executives
- interactive chat rooms
- holding a dream career contest.
The company was rewarded with improved employee perceptions, decreased attrition, and increased productivity. T-Mobile now follows an agile approach to leadership training, including learning curriculums packed full of 1,000 microlearning objects to provide potential leaders with the skill sets and qualities they need.
Agilent Technologies, a spinoff of Hewlett Packard, created a global corporate leadership development program for high-potential leaders. Its features include:
- Clear leadership competencies
- 360-degree reviews based on these competencies
- Executive coaching
- Coaching effectiveness monitoring
- "Pay for results" clause (promising leadership growth for the leader or else the coach wouldn't be paid!)
Two and a half years into using this leadership development model, the company measured the program's success based on anonymous feedback by raters. 95% of leaders who completed the program showed overall leadership effectiveness.
✍️ How do you write a leadership development plan?
We encourage leadership development plans to be iterative between a leadership candidate and HR leaders or reporting managers. Candidates can carry out self-assessments to map out their personal leadership development journeys, evaluating their own strengths and weaknesses to help identify any skills gaps.
But existing leaders must also get involved in defining leadership competency models. Assess the progress of the leadership candidate, revisiting the action plan periodically in case it needs tweaking.
Use the right-hand column of the template below to create:
- detailed notes
- time frames for the goals and objectives to be achieved
- next leadership assessment dates.
This will provide you with clear metrics about how well a candidate progresses along their journey to effective leadership.
📝 Sample Leadership development plan
A leadership development plan doesn't need to differ from your "traditional" employee development plans in the company.
While the overall process works similarly, the target competencies change.
Download: 🧾 Employee development plan template [Spreadsheet]
➡️ Put your leadership development plan ideas into practice
Leadership development is a critical investment for the future of your company. But this isn't a process you can use a cookie-cutter for. Instead, you'll need a firm understanding of core leadership competencies and how to work individually with candidates to create a bespoke learning development plan for each.
Zavvy can assist by
- 🌱 Establishing highly relevant competency models
- 🔄 Getting in feedback to understand everyone's individual strengths and weaknesses
- 📝 Creating and following individual development plans for everyone
- 📈 Making learning engaging and effective with innovative training solutions. These include our binge-worthy micro-lessons to provide future leaders with the tools they need to succeed in business.
Check out our employee development solutions today or book a free demo and let us show you how it works.
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