Effective leadership often determines whether an organization succeeds or fails. However, if leadership holds such importance, why doesn’t developing it garner greater organizational focus?
How can current and aspiring leaders realize their full potential while steering their teams toward success? This article examines the keys to effective leadership development because these programs provide the tools companies need to cultivate the next generation of great leaders. Embracing a proactive strategy allows organizations to consistently convert managers into leaders and recruit young professionals with overwhelming potential.
Prepare to embark on a transformative journey. Why transformative? Everything else improves when organizations prioritize leadership development.
Importance of Leadership Development
Why are leadership development programs critical to an organization’s success? They ensure those in influential roles evolve, strengthen their skill set, and develop a growth mindset that propels their company forward. A 2022 McKinsey article on leadership addresses this: “A well-designed and executed training program can help organizations build leaders’ capabilities broadly, at scale. And these programs can be built around coaching, mentoring, and having people try to solve challenging problems—learning skills by applying them in real time to real work.”
Organizations that lack these programs often struggle with performance and engagement, as leaders rarely change outdated beliefs and practices without motivation. Successful leadership development fosters the qualities and skills required to lead with purpose, inspire others, and effect positive change. By investing in leadership development, organizations create a culture of excellence that empowers everyone to take responsibility and contribute to success.
Frequent Challenges in Leadership Development
While leadership development is vital, there are challenges that organizations frequently encounter. One of the most common is identifying potential leaders. Not everyone in a managerial position has the qualities of a true leader. It’s important to distinguish between the two and identify individuals with the potential to lead effectively.
Another challenge is consistently providing support and resources that bolster leadership development. Training is not a one-time event; it requires continuous prioritization and focus. I often witness well-intentioned organizations implement two months of training, then fumble the follow-up. They invest in the initial training program, and that’s it.
Additionally, organizations often struggle to measure a training initiative’s effectiveness while simultaneously attempting to use it to drive the business. That’s because it can be challenging to quantify the impact of leadership development solely by looking at performance. Implementing evaluation mechanisms and measuring key performance indicators is a far more accurate means of gaining insight into program effectiveness.
Key Qualities of an Effective Leader
The key to an effective leadership development program is creating a well-defined roadmap and identifying the qualities contributing to successful leadership within a specific organization.
Many of the organizations that I advise will soon begin investing in leadership development and defining what success looks like. This process requires time to develop a leadership profile and discern the core competencies necessary to enhance performance and generate impact. This can be as straightforward as identifying four to five behavioral competencies based on your industry and strategic goals.
An effective leadership development program does more than gather leaders together for training. Great programs focus their training on specific qualities because they’ve taken the time to identify the qualities of successful leadership and have a clear plan.
Professor Ruth Gotian, Ed.D, M.S., expands on the criteria that are required for leadership development programs to be successful. In Psychology Today, she recently argued that programs must emphasize self-awareness, cultivate emotional intelligence, encourage lifelong learning, provide mentorship and coaching, and embrace inclusion.
Implementing a Leadership Development Program
Implementing a successful program is a crucial step in the process. We’ve previously discussed how a lack of consistency and failure to learn from past experiences are frequent obstacles to the success of leadership programs.
Let’s look at a few crucial questions an organization must answer and continually monitor if they hope to gain traction from their programs:
- Does your program have both formal and informal training mechanisms?
- Is there an established plan to ensure key learnings are implemented on the job?
- Do participants have the necessary materials and resources to document and incorporate their learning into their daily lives?
Effective leadership development employs accountability mechanisms to ensure leaders are actively involved in personal and professional growth. This may include regular check-ins, goal-setting, and performance evaluations. Leaders are more likely to devote time to evolving and growing if they are held accountable and understand that the training wasn’t just to check a box. According to a 2020 Forbes article on leadership development, “It’s critical that your leaders know why these skills are important and how they’ll make them more effective leaders.”
Resources for Ongoing Leadership Development
Developing and building leaders is an ongoing process. Remaining ahead in a rapidly changing business landscape requires a commitment to continuous learning and growth.
Using the power of an outside voice is valuable. Indiana football coach Tom Allen frequently speaks about the power of an outside voice to inspire and provide new learning opportunities. The outside voice is when an external party offers a different perspective on the objective.
Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed the value and potency of this tool. Whether it’s us or someone else, I encourage organizations to use an unbiased external partner. The difference between those who invest in the power of the outside voice and those who don’t is significant.
Leaders should continuously seek out content, videos, books, and articles that provide different illustrations of key points. Send team members or attendees relevant resources that expand on a covered topic.
The primary catalyst for the success of leadership development programs lies in organizations that demonstrate a desire to build a robust system for cultivating leaders. This materializes when organizations prioritize, monitor, and execute leadership development with the same rigor as other business metrics.
The reward is tremendous and well worth the effort. After all, when a company fosters a culture of excellence and its leaders begin making an impact, organizational excellence and performance always follow.