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  • Writer's pictureIrina Ketkin

Create a leadership development program in 3 steps

Many beginner L&D practitioners (and some experienced pros) are tasked with developing the leadership population in their organization yet still struggle to find the best way. If you're one of these people, first of all, you are not alone! Many organizations struggle with how best to support their teams' growth, particularly in times of organizational change or rapid expansion. And secondly, developing leaders is easier than you might think.

In this blog post, we'll walk you through 3 steps for creating a leadership development program to help your team reach new heights of success.

Table of contents:

A quick note on leadership models

There are many leadership models out there. Some of the more popular ones are Situational Leadership, Transactional and Transformational Leadership, and Laissez-faire (or hands-off). Chances are that your company is championing its own approach altogether. What model does your organization use? Let us know in the comments below.

3 Steps to Leadership Development

Whatever model you prefer, one thing is for sure – as L&D, you need to actively support the development of leaders in your organization. So here is a simple 3-step process to help you with that.

Step 1. Identify the learning needs

The first step is to identify the learning needs of the target population. You need to measure the current capabilities and skills, knowledge, and behaviors the organization will need in the future.

To measure these, you could (in no particular order):

  • collect 360-degree feedback,

  • conduct interviews with managers and their direct reports,

  • look through past performance reviews,

  • administer a psychometric assessment (like DiSC or the MBTI)

  • organize a development center event

  • analyze in-depth the strategy, mission, and vision of the company.

In this first step, you would also consider who needs to undergo a management development program. This can be based on their needs but also on any succession plans the company has for them.

Another thing that's important to measure is how managers in your organization prefer to learn. Learn more about adult learners and some of the more popular styles in our video "What are Learning Styles?"

Step 2. Design and implement learning solutions

The learning experiences you design for a leadership program wouldn't differ from the standard L&D methods you would use. Certainly, in-house or external training can be part of that. But you can also consider:

  • Formal courses or programs, like an MBA or another postgraduate qualification,

  • Mentoring and coaching for the learning managers,

  • Job shadowing or secondments

  • Participating in various company-wide projects.

You may want to use a combination of methods throughout the program—for example, a lecture followed by group exercises or simulations. Some of the best programs allow people from different parts of the business to work together on projects that affect the whole company. For example, operations, marketing, and IT managers are tasked to develop and implement a strategy for increasing inclusion and diversity awareness across the organization.

The ultimate goal of any management or leadership development program is to help managers:

  • become aware of their current leadership style,

  • apply their strengths,

  • adopt new behaviors and beliefs and

  • achieve results through the newfound methods (Bass and Avolio, 2008).

All learning interventions you choose need to help your learners through this journey. For example,

  • To increase self-aware, show them feedback from their direct reports on their leadership behaviors and discuss it.

  • To apply their strengths, you could ask them to mentor another manager who isn't as strong in a particular area.

  • To help adopt new behaviors, create personal development plans, and offer coaching or participation in communities of practice.

  • Finally, to ensure they are achieving results, give them regular feedback on their progress, monitor their performance, and collect comments from people they work with.

To ensure success for your program, be sure to include multiple opportunities for feedback and evaluation throughout the process so participants can receive immediate reinforcement on their progress as they move through each stage (e.g., completing readings before class, self-assessment questionnaires, and so on).

Step 3. Evaluate the impact

The key in this step is to understand what impact the leadership development program has had on:

  • The leader – in terms of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes

  • Their followers (direct reports) – in terms of their performance and wellbeing

  • The organization – in terms of overall performance and bottom line

The evaluation for a leadership program will not be any different from any other evaluation. As a matter of fact, it will have the same complications – it will be challenging to identify which performance and attitude changes were directly caused by the development program. But one thing that helps is to be very clear on what we will measure from the beginning.

For example, I may want to test how much participants' conflict management approaches have improved as a result of the program. Staging a fight between team members wouldn't be ethical. And I cannot spend a week or a month shadowing the manager, hoping an opportunity for them to manage conflict will arise, and I will get to observe them. But collecting feedback on this matter from their direct reports is realistic. Or administering a psychometric assessment, like the Thomas-Killman Inventory. And again, for this feedback to illustrate the progress leaders have achieved, I need to have collected it at the beginning of the program and once more at the end. This is the only way I can measure the actual change that has taken place.

In effect, you need to think of how you will evaluate the program before you even begin analyzing the needs and developing learning experiences. By considering what I can measure in advance, I am confident in setting goals at the beginning of the program.

Notes on leadership development

Leadership development is not training. We come across these types of misconceptions all the time. Let's explore!

Training is a one-off event you can take in a single workshop or seminar or as part of an ongoing series of courses. It's short, focused, and specific to the task or skill being taught; it might teach you how to apply a particular leadership style, for example, or how to approach a conversation about wellbeing with staff members.

Leadership development programs must be more than just training. Leadership development is about creating leaders with relevant skills and knowledge; who also possess attributes such as emotional intelligence (EQ), which help them succeed as leaders in their organizations and communities. The best leadership development programs combine skills and character development through activities designed to help participants become more self-aware about themselves—their strengths and weaknesses—and learn ways to grow into better leaders over time by regularly practicing new behaviors at work or at home.


Leadership development is a process and a journey. And with the right tools and resources, you can create an effective program that helps your organization grow leaders equipped to succeed in their roles today while setting them up for long-term success. These three steps (analysis, design, and evaluation) will help ensure your program hits its true potential.


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