Do You Have a Successful Leadership Development Strategy?

Joe Weinlick
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From your first shaky steps in infancy to your first management role, every skill in life requires learning and practice. Leadership development is no different, and employers that invest time and resources into grooming talented employees produce future leaders who can successfully carry out the company's mission.

While some employees possess a natural affinity for leadership, companies shouldn't solely rely on inherent ability to meet workplace demands. In a 2016 Deloitte survey, 56 percent of executives believed their companies weren't prepared to satisfy leadership needs, and 21 percent of companies had no leadership development programs in place. Despite global spending of more than $140 billion on learning in 2015, many companies fail at implementing leadership development programs because they provide sporadic, unfocused resources without defining clear goals.

Effective leadership development strategies have three things in common: structure, sustainability and scalability. To develop a structure, employers should define the most important competencies of leadership roles and provide goal-oriented resources to help employees develop those skills. Instead of a broad generic program, companies can tailor opportunities to different employees by using periodic skills assessments to gauge their strengths, weaknesses and professional growth. Employees also benefit from a multichannel approach in which they have access to diverse opportunities, such as mentoring, online courses, seminars, job rotation and enrichment projects.

Scalability is essential for designing a leadership development strategy that can be expanded and repeated with predictable results. This managed growth is only possible if the entire company culture reinforces the mission of empowering future leaders to be confident, accountable and innovative in the earlier stages of their careers. Scalability starts with hiring curious, engaged workers who seek out ways to create value. As they progress in their careers, these employees should be actively coached on how to network, resolve conflict and make decisions in the workplace. By instilling workers with a sense of authority and ownership, they become better equipped at tackling unfamiliar challenges with calmness and purpose.

Both structure and scalability contribute to sustainability — the company's potential to generate long-term profit from investing in human capital. A leadership development strategy is worthless if company leaders cannot provide evidence to justify spending more money on corporate learning. As a result, every learning program should be tied to the organization's current or future obstacles and goals, ensuring employees have the expertise to put value back into the company. One way to promote sustainability is to assign employees to solve specific problems that fall outside their current roles. In this forward-looking system, employees gradually learn to think like a leader and recover from mistakes without accepting the full responsibility of a leadership role all at once.

Successful companies continually evolve, so leadership development should never be a static initiative. By routinely evaluating a company's needs, employers can develop learning growth opportunities that motivate workers to think like leaders and take on increasingly challenging roles in the workplace.

Photo courtesy of tec_estromberg at


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