top of page

Designing a Leadership Development Program that Fits Your Organization

According to 2023 research, the global corporate leadership training market size is estimated to increase by USD 18.59 billion from 2021 to 2026. Apart from this being quite an impressive figure, it actually makes sense. A lot of companies would rather spend time and, most importantly, money to help existing employees step up to the plate than waste the same valuable time and money finding the right fit from outside the organization.

But what if you’re the one who has to support this effort and create the leaders of tomorrow for your organization figure? How confident do you feel designing the right learning interventions for the right people at the right time?

In this article, we will explore 7 tips for designing and delivering a truly successful leadership development program that aligns with your organization.

Table of contents:

#1. Needs Analysis

Ask any marathon runner and they’ll tell you they study the route just as meticulously as they prepare their body. The same needs to be true for Learning and Development – we need to understand what is happening right now and where our leaders need to be in the near future. For this, we need to conduct a needs analysis.

A learning needs analysis is a systematic process of identifying gaps between employees' current attitudes and capabilities and the attitudes and capabilities required for them to perform their roles more effectively.

Your (uneasy) task is to discover:

  • The organization’s, challenges (current state) and goals and strategy (future state)

  • The specific knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) leaders need to develop to support the above, and

  • The current KSA leaders exhibit right now

There are some key questions you need to ask:

  • WHAT are the company’s goals?

  • WHAT is the company’s strategic direction?

  • WHAT challenges is the organization currently facing?

  • WHAT do leaders need to think/feel?

  • WHAT do leaders currently do really well?

  • WHAT do leaders need to do better?

Let’s look at an example:

  • Company goal: expand into new markets and increase revenue by 25% in the next two years

  • Needed KSA: strategic planning, market analysis, financial management, and practical communication skills

  • Current KSA: strong people management, weak decision transparency, intermediate data analysis

It’s easy to translate leader’s weaknesses into learning needs – if someone isn’t delegating effectively or they don’t know how to manage conflict, provide them with learning opportunities to help them improve. But what do you do with their strengths? Utilize them! You can ask people who are good at specific things to step in as role models, subject matter experts, coaches, mentors, or even trainers and facilitators.

The remaining question is how do you collect all this information? That’s simple – you have at your disposal a range of different data collection methods. These include (but are not limited to) interviews, surveys, observations, research into formal and informal discussions happening throughout the organisation (internal social media, forums, feedback forms, etc.), engagement survey, exit interviews, etc.

#2. Defining Program Objectives

Once you know what you’re dealing with, it’s time to put together some program objectives. You can think of these as a roadmap that tells you what skills and competencies need to be developed and how they will be measured.

If you want to align your program objectives to the organization’s goal, consider the following tips:

  • Start with the organization's goals: Look at the organization's overall goals and objectives, identify the skills and competencies that are needed to achieve those goals and how they relate to leadership development. You would ideally do this in the previous steps when researching the learning needs.

  • Align with organization culture and values: For example, if collaboration is a core value, one of the program objectives could be to foster collaboration among team members.

  • Use SMART criteria: Just in case you’ve lived under a rock in the past 20 years, SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. SMART goals help ensure that the objectives are clear and achievable and that progress can be tracked and measured.

Examples of SMART goals for a leadership development program

Let’s look at some sample program objectives:

  • Improve participants’ communication skills to foster open and effective dialogue within their teams, where 90% of participants score at least 80% on the post-program communication skills assessment.

  • Cultivate a culture of innovation by enhancing the creative thinking abilities of the leaders, where by the end of the program, every participant generates at least 3 innovative ideas that could be implemented in their respective departments.

Each objective should then be broken into specific skills and competencies that need to be developed. Using the examples above:

  • Communication skills could include topics like active listening, effective feedback, conflict resolution

  • Innovation could be taught through creative thinking, problem solving and design thinking

Let’s take a look at some more specific examples of SMART goals. We’ll use the topics above to give you an idea of how to make your goals specific, measurable, and time-bound.

Improving communication:

  • Increase the number of employees who report feeling confident in their communication skills by 20% by the end of the program.

  • Reduce the number of misunderstandings between team members by 50% by the end of the program.

  • Increase the use of active listening techniques in team meetings by 30% by the end of the program.

Fostering collaboration:

  • Increase the number of successful cross-functional projects by 25% by the end of the program.

  • Reduce the number of conflicts between team members by 50% by the end of the program.

  • Increase the use of collaboration tools (e.g., shared documents, project management software) by 30% by the end of the program.

Enhancing decision-making skills:

  • Increase the number of data-driven decisions by 50% by the end of the program.

  • Reduce the time taken to make important decisions by 30% by the end of the program.

  • Increase the number of decisions made by teams (rather than individuals) by 20% by the end of the program.

Developing emotional intelligence:

  • Increase the number of employees who report feeling confident in their emotional intelligence by 20% by the end of the program.

  • Increase the number of positive interactions between team members by 30% by the end of the program.

  • Reduce the number of negative interactions between team members by 50% by the end of the program.

Building resilience:

  • Increase the number of employees who report feeling resilient in the face of challenges by 25% by the end of the program.

  • Increase the number of employees who report feeling motivated and engaged at work by 20% by the end of the program.

  • Develop a toolkit of resilience-building strategies that can be shared with all employees by the end of the program.

Developing strategic thinking:

  • Increase the number of employees who report feeling confident in their strategic thinking skills by 20% by the end of the program.

  • Develop a strategic plan for the organization that incorporates input from all levels of the organization by the end of the program.

  • Increase the use of strategic thinking tools (e.g., SWOT analysis, scenario planning) by 30% by the end of the program.

#3. Selecting the Right Learning Methods

Selecting the right training methods is crucial for the success of your leadership development program. A popular approach is the 70-20-10 framework which suggests that 70% of learning happens through experience, 20% through social interactions, and 10% through formal training. These don’t have to be exact proportions, but they should give you an idea of what to focus your efforts on.

Consider a range of possible learning methods, including training, online learning, workshops, simulations, coaching, mentoring, project work, secondments, and more. To accommodate the 70-20-10 framework, you could blend several learning methods. For example, you could prepare a short online course, followed by an in-person workshop where participants can share their experiences and practice new leadership techniques. That could be additionally supported by coaching or mentoring. And all of this would culminate in a project that the group would need to work on together, allowing them to practice everything they have learned in a real-world situation.

When selecting the right methods, it's important to consider your organization's needs, resources, and culture. For example, workshops and group coaching sessions may be more effective if your organization values collaboration and teamwork. Alternatively, if your organization focuses more on individual development, one-on-one coaching or mentoring may be a better fit. Of course, in the real world, things are rarely so simple, so work within your specific context.

#4. Selecting participants

There are two main approaches to selecting participants: push and pull.

In the push approach, the business nominates and "pushes" leaders to participate in the program. This is often driven by line managers or HRBPs who identify potential leaders who could benefit from the program.

The advantage of this approach is that it ensures a wide range of leaders from different parts of the organization participate in the program, which can help to build a common leadership culture. Additionally, it can be easier to ensure that diversity and inclusion are prioritized in the selection process. However, the downside is that participants may not to be fully engaged or motivated to participate in the program, leading to lower levels of commitment and engagement.

In contrast, the pull approach requires managers and leaders to apply and be considered for the program.

This approach ensures that only truly motivated and committed leaders participate in the program, which can increase the level of engagement and participation. Additionally, it can help to build a stronger sense of ownership and commitment to the program. However, the downside is that the program may not attract a diverse range of participants, and there may be a risk of bias in the selection process.

Ultimately, the approach chosen will depend on the goals and culture of the organization. A push approach may be more appropriate for organizations seeking to build a common leadership culture, while a pull approach may be more suitable for organizations seeking to attract and retain motivated and engaged leaders. Regardless of the approach chosen, it's important to ensure that the selection process is fair, transparent, and aligned with the organization's values and goals. This can help to ensure that the program is successful and delivers lasting benefits to both the individual leaders and the organization as a whole.

#5. Implementing a leadership development program

When designing a leadership development program, one might wonder if it's necessary for the instructor or facilitator to be a leader themselves. The truth is that there are pros and cons to both sides of this question. Let's explore some more.

Pros of being a leader:

  • Having experience as a leader can provide valuable insights into the skills and knowledge needed for successful leadership.

  • A leader may better understand the specific challenges and opportunities faced by their organization and can tailor the program accordingly.

  • A leader's credibility and influence may help to gain buy-in from other leaders and participants in the program.

Cons of being a leader:

  • A leader may have a biased perspective on what skills and knowledge are necessary for successful leadership based on their own experience and style.

  • A leader may be too close to the situation to identify blind spots or areas for improvement within the organization.

  • A leader may lack the necessary expertise in program design and development to create an effective program.

Pros of not being a leader:

  • A non-leader may bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to the program design.

  • A non-leader may have expertise in program design and development to ensure that the program is compelling and engaging.

  • A non-leader may be more objective in identifying blind spots and areas for improvement within the organization.

Cons of not being a leader:

  • A non-leader may lack understanding of the specific challenges and opportunities faced by the organization and may be unable to tailor the program accordingly.

  • A non-leader may lack credibility and influence with other leaders and participants in the program.

  • A non-leader may not fully understand the nuances of leadership and what it takes to be an effective leader.

The question of outsourcing

There are several situations when outsourcing the implementation or delivery of a leadership development program to an external vendor may be the best option for your organization.

Firstly, if your organization does not have the necessary expertise or resources to design and deliver a program internally, outsourcing to an external vendor can provide access to specialized knowledge and skills. These vendors can offer various program options, from off-the-shelf to customized solutions, and bring fresh perspectives to the design and delivery process.

Secondly, outsourcing can be a time-effective way to implement a program if you have a time constraints. External vendors may have established processes and resources in place, which can streamline the design and delivery process and reduce the time and costs associated with creating a program from scratch.

Thirdly, suppose you are looking to implement a program across multiple locations or regions. In that case, an external vendor can provide consistency in program delivery, ensuring that all participants receive the same quality of training, regardless of their location.

However, outsourcing also has its potential drawbacks. The biggest one being the cost – hiring external vendors always comes with a hefty price tag. Not to mention that you’ll be paying not just for their fees, but also for any travel and accommodation (in cases of face-to-face programs). Another potential drawback to consider is that working with an external vendor can result in less control over the design and delivery of the program. And that may turn into less customization to your organization's specific needs and culture.

Ultimately, the decision to outsource the implementation or delivery of a leadership development program should be based on your organization's specific needs and goals, as well as the available resources and expertise. Just make sure to weigh in both the pros and cons before making a final decision.

#6. Skills needed to design and implement a leadership development program

Let’s talk about the skills need to design and deliver a successful leadership development program. Below is a list of just some of the more important skills but the list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Knowledge of leadership theory and practice

  • Communication skills

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Organization skills, including time management

  • Stakeholder management

  • Coaching

  • Facilitation skills

  • Working understanding of the Adult learning principles

  • Flexibility and adaptability

Effective facilitators are able to connect with participants, communicate effectively, and provide guidance and support to help participants develop their leadership skills.

#7. Evaluating the Program

Arguably, one of the most important activities of any L&D department is to evaluate the success of their work. Leadership development is no exception. As a matter of fact, I’d go as far as to say that you need to be evaluating any leadership development intervention even more rigorously and regularly than other activities – it is that important.

To design an effective evaluation plan, it's important to set measurable goals and use multiple methods for collecting data. This includes conducting pre and post-program assessments, gathering feedback from participants and stakeholders, and analyzing metrics such as productivity, employee engagement, and retention rates.

When analyzing the evaluation results, think of SWOT – consider the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for your program. This can help you inform any adjustments you need to make to the program's content, delivery methods, or objectives to better align with your organization's needs and values.

Additionally, it's important to communicate the evaluation results to program participants and stakeholders and provide them with actionable feedback and opportunities for further development. This can help to foster a culture of continuous learning within the organization.


Designing a leadership development program that fits your organization is essential for the growth and success of the business. We've covered several key points in this post, including the importance of conducting a learning needs analysis, defining program objectives, selecting the right learning methods, selecting the appropriate participants, and implementing and evaluating the program.

Remember that every organization is unique, and your leadership development program should reflect that. By using the guidance provided in this post and tailoring it to your organization's specific needs and values, you can create a successful leadership development program that will benefit your company for years to come.

Have you ever participated in a leadership development program? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below. For example, the retail industry has a growing trend toward e-commerce and omnichannel sales. Leaders in this industry need to be able to manage teams that work both in physical stores and online and to provide a consistent customer experience across multiple channels. A leadership development program in this industry may focus on topics such as customer service, supply chain management, and digital marketing.

1 Comment

Jun 07, 2023

This was a helpful overview, thank you!

bottom of page