Create A Leadership Development Program That Actually Will Build Leadership Depth

Create A Leadership Development Program That Actually Will Build Leadership Depth

I received a call last week from Trent, a senior manager. The executive team is keenly aware their organization lacks leadership depth and they need to act now. Their managers and ‘high-potentials’ have good technical skills, but are not equipped with the skills needed to effectively lead now, much less manage and strategically lead the organization as they want it to be 3, 5, and 10 years from now. So, they’ve initiated a leadership development program. Sounds great so far right? Yeah, I thought so too…

However, to get a baseline of their managers’ leadership skills, each manager’s performance was reviewed and rated by his or her up-line manager. Based upon the review and input by their senior manager, each manager was also given one or two subjective leadership skills to improve. All managers were then instructed where to find the corporate online training options and were provided a list of their organization’s Book Club books to read. To develop their roles as mentors, the managers are now also charged with mentoring their self-identified ‘high-potentials’ and sharing with them their individual leadership learning insights. Because the managers are left to figure out their own paths for skill development, the program feels (and is) haphazard, and the managers are irritated and confused. Trent asked, “Is it me or is this program wrong?” No Trent it is not you. The intent is right. The plan is wrong.

Because the program feels haphazard, the managers are irritated and confused.

While I commend the senior team for realizing the organization lacks leadership depth, their approach is demoralizing and disjointed. Instead of creating a strategic, cohesively-designed leadership development program, they’ve created confusion and the potential for further departmentalization. At a bare minimum, there is no focused curriculum or development path to target the individual and team skills needed of the organization’s leadership team today or tomorrow. In addition, it’s going to exacerbate any current silos, departmentalization, and the we/they attitudes. Most basically, if you happen to work with a manager who is a good mentor and shares information and feedback with you, you’ll learn and develop your skills. If your manager doesn’t have these attributes, you won’t. Sorry, you’re out of luck. This program is not going to develop your leadership team’s skills. In fact, it’s going to hurt your team.

A well-designed leadership program should develop your leadership team members’ skills – individually and as a team – while it creates numerous opportunities for them to develop better team communications, relationships, focus, and trust.

A well-designed leadership program should better leadership team communications, relationships, focus, and trust.

So how do you create a leadership development program that actually works and creates leadership depth? Whether you’re a Human Resources (HR) professional or a manager charged with this project, be strategic when planning your organization’s leadership development program.

  1. Don’t dump this on Human Resources (HR) as a stand-alone project.

    I’ve written about this before in Leadership Development and Succession Planning are Not Just HR’s Responsibility. Planning your organization’s leadership development program can’t be restricted to HR. HR is critical to orchestrating and facilitating the process and program, but the force behind the content, day-to-day reinforcement and application opportunities, providing real-time feedback on skill application and support fall to the leadership team. Therefore, HR and all leaders need to be actively engaged in the design, implementation and management of this process.

  2. Start with your strategic plan.

    Your organization’s strategic plan outlines the type of organization your leadership team plans to/needs to support, manage, and lead in 3, 5, 10 or more years. Therefore, in order to create leadership depth your leadership development program should be designed to introduce, enhance, and practice – in various formats – the myriad of specific leadership skills and attributes needed of your organization’s current and future leaders.

  3. Map current and future talent to your strategic plan.

    If you don’t already have a workforce map, create one. You need to have a clear map of what your current talent pool looks like and what it is projected to look like 3, 5 or 10 years from now. What knowledge, skills, and abilities/attributes (KSAs), are needed now and what KSAs will be needed for each position on your map in the future? Yes, identify the KSAs for each position not just leadership positions. Why? Until you know the skills of the teams you’re expecting your current and future leaders to lead, you can not determine leadership skill sets. Leaders lead teams.

  4. Identify talent gaps.

    Review your talent maps and identify current and future gaps in team and leadership knowledge, skills, and abilities. This information is what will drive your leadership development training framework. Develop a draft framework of what a potential leadership development program could look like. Include suggestions on who should participate, training topics to include, potential training formats, experiential exercises, cross-training opportunities, mentoring and coaching options, etc. Create a draft framework for others to react to and enhance.

  5. Talk with managers and select team members.

    Now, talk with all members of the management team, from front-line managers to senior staff, as well as with select individual team members. Share the organization’s vision, remind everyone of key strategic initiatives, and share the current talent maps you generated.

    • Given the organization’s current positions and talent, and the anticipated future talent and skill needs of the organization, what input can they provide on the leadership development program you drafted? Who should provide the training? Will it actually develop the specific skills needed? Is the sequence, training format(s), and expectations right for your organization and your team? What specific issues and impacts do they foresee?
    • Provide training for all levels of leadership from senior staff to front-line supervisors. Senior staff needs to model the learning and personal growth they expect to see in others. Keep select offerings restricted to select layers of management (i.e., only senior-staff, only mid-level managers, only first-time supervisors, etc) to enable targeted content and free-flowing conversations. However, ensure you offer several opportunities every year for the levels of leadership to intentionally be mixed, work together on select projects, and work with others from other departments. When all levels of leadership are participants in ongoing individual and leadership team development programs, the momentum for culture change, reduced departmentalization, enhanced communication, teamwork, and engagement, exposure to new opportunities and challenges, and yes, new skills takes off.
    • Given the skills they need now and the skills they project they’ll need themselves and within their departments in 3+ years, what adjustments in programs, offerings, participants and formats would be most beneficial? What methods for training and skill development have they experienced that enables their team members to learn and gain competency most effectively?
      1. Will you use internal resources for your trainers, coaches, and curriculum or will you outsource? Will you use a single or limited number of resources for consistent messaging or will you use various leadership resources to present various experts’ perspectives? What mix of individualized versus team training and coaching will be most beneficial? What will you do to create a common leadership and organizational vocabulary to ensure consistent messaging with all leaders and throughout your organization?
    • How will the program’s effectiveness for individual managers, as well as the entire leadership team and organization be measured? How will you measure this program’s success in helping to drive your strategic plan forward? How will individual and team development be assessed?
  6. Refine the program’s design and finalize your training program resources/partners.

    After you’ve incorporated the input from managers, select your leadership development team members. Finalize and lock in the partner(s) who will be key in helping you to kick-off and roll-out your leadership program positively, strategically, and with the excitement of the management team behind you.

  7. Create and share a communication plan.

    After you’ve finalized your leadership development program plan, craft a basic communication plan as to how the program will be introduced to all employees. Strategic communication is key to position this new initiative correctly. Why should you let all employees know the company is starting a Leadership Development Program? It ensures you’re being transparent. You’re letting all team members know you believe every leader in the organization needs to continually learn and develop his or her skills – just as you expect every team member to improve his or her skills every day. It also raises the expectations by everyone that they should anticipate enhanced leadership skills from their managers, as well as a positive change in the organization’s culture. This sounds a bit risky, but if you’re going to invest the time, money and team effort to implement this program, don’t you expect the leadership team’s skills and the organization’s culture to change for the better? Communicate the final plan to your leadership team first to give them a heads-up and to enable any final tweaks. Then share the news with others.

  8. Roll out and manage your new Leadership Development Program.

    It’s ‘Go’ time! Start your program and monitor it for tweaks and successes. Address missteps and gaffs right away. Share successes and learning insights with the participants regularly so you model for them how to confidently manage a program and continually improve it. Ensure this program has ‘life’ within your organization.

  9. Measure, modify and make meaningful.

    Have checkpoints throughout the program to measure its effectiveness, modify the format and offerings, and ensure the leadership development experiences continue to be meaningful to the participants. Regularly assess if they are developing the right skills and depth of knowledge needed to drive your organization forward.

  10. Make ongoing talent development a part of your organization’s culture.

    No leadership development program can change an organization’s culture unless the organization enables and expects all team members to learn and develop new skills regularly. Make learning by everyone an expectation every day. Model it. Talk about it. Enhance it. Do it.

So once again, no Trent, it’s not you. Your organization’s current leadership development program is faulty. Revamp it to strategically and intentionally develop your leaders’ and your team members’ skills to build depth you need. If it’s not going to do that, why do it at all?



Does your team need a leadership development program that actually builds leadership depth?
Call our office for more information or check out our Succession & Workforce Planning services.

Learn More about Creating Leadership Depth



Copyright MMXVIII- Liz Weber, CMC, CSP – Weber Business Services, LLC – +1.717.597.8890

Liz supports clients with creating leadership depth through a focused strategic and succession planning process. You can learn more about Liz and her services on LinkedIn!



Liz Weber CMC CSP

Liz Weber CMC

Liz Weber coaches, consults, and trains leadership teams. She specializes in strategic and succession planning, and leadership development.

Liz is one of fewer than 100 people in the U.S. to hold both the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designations.

Contact Liz’s office at +1.717.597.8890 for more info on how Liz can help you, or click here to have Liz’s office contact you.


Watch Liz in action


Do you know which metrics matter?

Recent Posts

Management Consulting Connection