25 September 2022 |

How to create a leadership development program


This email is your cheat sheet for a leadership development strategy that has an impact. 

Investing time and resources into the development of your people will:

  • Decrease unwanted attrition
  • Create leaders ready to step up and fill available positions
  • Improve effectiveness at every level
  • Increase your company’s P&L

Leadership development is a $366 billion industry, and most people still don’t know what they’re doing. 

Remember this phrase: Leadership development is a process, not an event. 

Development, for yourself or your team, fails when you treat it like an event.

It is only successful when you create a process you can execute.

Examples of development “Events”:

  • A yearly training
  • Yearly reviews
  • Two hours focused on skill development at an executive retreat

When you think about development in your organization, focus on these three steps: priorities, systems, and checkpoints.

  • Define the priorities
  • Create systems that support them
  • Develop checkpoints to keep the momentum

You need development to become part of your organization’s DNA.

Fun Fact: 75% of new information is forgotten within 24 hours if not immediately reinforced. 

That’s a lot of wasted time learning about something that will become immediately forgotten.

Trainings only succeed when systems and checkpoints are developed to reinforce the content. 

Imagine paying thousands of dollars to attend a conference with incredible keynote speakers.

It’s loud. 

People are shouting. 

Inspirational messages fly across massive screens. 

Music is blasting. 

Everyone is having fun.

You meet a few new people and follow them on Twitter.

You get selfies with a few of the keynote speakers. 

The messages have you inspired. 

But you get home, and nothing changes because you don’t take action.

You lost time. 

Spent money. 

And nothing changed.

What is the return on investment for this kind of event?

It’s an L.

Let’s make sure your development efforts are safe from this exact outcome. 

As a leadership consultant at Fortune 100 company for three years, I used this roadmap to develop their current and future leaders.

  • Define Priorities
  • Create Systems
  • Develop Checkpoints

Define Priorities

Start with defining key competencies or skills you know are most critical for your team to focus on.

Buy a few copies of the book For Your Improvement

(This book is incredible. It breaks down hundreds of leadership competencies and how to improve.)

Have your leadership team sit down together and individually scan the list of competencies, picking out those they feel are most relevant to your organization’s mission and vision.

Find the most common answers and then make cuts until you’re left with SEVEN you can focus on. (It’s okay to have fewer, but don’t do more.)

Here is an example I worked with a team on recently.

Next, assign a task force to begin collecting data:

This might be an external hire you bring in or a project assignment for someone on your team passionate about leadership development.

You will get insightful data from: 

  • Manager observations
  • Focus groups at all level
  • Anonymous surveys

The goal is to understand your team’s strengths and opportunities deeply.

Look for trends, and prioritize the things that will make the biggest impact.

Pick one competency to focus on and use your collected data to build a plan around it.

Example: Based on (insert data points) my recommendation is that we (insert plan).

(Need help presenting data? This thread is great.)

When you communicate your plan to your team, focus on what is important to them.

Mandated development programs can often feel like nothing more than extra work. 

To create advocates, show them the value.

Create Systems

People support the things they help create. 

You need decision-makers in your organization to play key roles in the program’s success.

Don’t allow one person to own it every step of the way. 

This is a group project, not a solo mission.

People hate being surprised. Keep them in the loop with things in the works and what they can expect. 

Be sure everyone involved can answer these questions:

  • What is the expectation?
  • Why are we making this a focus?
  • When and where do I need to be?
  • Who is included?

Lack of communication will create unnecessary obstacles for you to overcome.

Plan your development plan communication cadence in advance:

  • Schedule emails
  • Block out time to do the work
  • Put reminders in your calendar

If your organization struggles with execution, this is an excellent way for you to teach how execution looks.

  • Clear expectations
  • Consistent follow-up
  • Coach to opportunities
  • Recognize the bright spots

Develop Checkpoints

Progress points will help you create momentum. 

While crafting the plan, develop opportunities to promote your development initiatives.

A few examples:

  • Weekly emails
  • Manager meetings
  • Post training observations
  • People will forget. 

When it’s important, you need to remind them.

The progress points will allow you to share what is working and highlight the bright spots. 

If you have a manager who is executing the program and seeing results, make them a big deal!

Share the details about what they are doing and how the changes are impacting their results.

And anticipate gaps. There will always be opportunities and obstacles to overcome. 

Change is harder for some than others. Be sure teammates who are lagging behind have the support needed to catch up.

Be sure your leaders are prepared to coach and support. 

Once a program is completed, it’s time to resync with your leadership team and decide the next development priority. 

Meeting quarterly with key decision makers will help you create a culture where leadership development remains a priority.

In each meeting, discuss:

  • Trends
  • Progress
  • Strengths
  • Skill gaps

And that’s what I got. There’s a lot here. I’m sure you have questions.

Hit the reply button, and let’s chat.