3 (Not So Secret) Secrets to Designing Effective Leadership Development Programs

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Using these secrets can help your organization maximize its efforts to develop a solid pool of leadership talent.

According to a CEB (now Gartner) Learning and Development Roundtable study, 60% of frontline managers underperform during their first two years, driving performance gaps and employee turnover. And, according to David Witt, a researcher at the Ken Blanchard Companies, there is a clear connection between the quality of leadership practices—as perceived by employees—and employee intentions to stay, perform at a high level, and apply discretionary effort. To maximize efforts to ensure a solid pool of leadership talent, leadership development programs should take the following three not so secret secrets into consideration.

1. A dash of common sense with a pinch of “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM)

If someone has been chosen for a leadership development opportunity in your company, we can start off with the assumption that they are an adult. We’ve come to know quite a bit scientifically about how adults tend to learn, but frankly, so much of it is common sense. Keep two key things in mind: people are busy AND already have much to offer.

When an employee is offered the opportunity to participate in a leadership development program, “what’s in it for me” is only the beginning. Ensuring that key pieces of the program somehow fit with that leader’s goals or business objectives is key. Each leader brings a wealth of experiences, learning preferences, workload issues and engagement interests to the mix. To be most effective, the leadership development program needs to mirror these experiences.

In other words, to make the leadership development experience positive, stay away from:

  • a one-size-fits-all curriculum
  • an instructor-led/controlled environment
  • “learners” sitting in a row and listening for hours on end
  • cohorts grouped by department or age
  • lack of relevance to the real world.

 
And start considering the start-to-finish design of your offerings from the perspective of the participant, allowing for:

  • a safe environment where (respectful) disagreement can occur
  • an opportunity to explicitly consider and understand the real-world application of the offering
  • autonomy and agency built in throughout the program
  • a positive environment where growth and development (e.g. safely stepping outside of comfort zones) are used as anchors of purpose
  • facilitators who help participants navigate conversations around the relevancy of various program aspects to the participants’ day-to-day lives.

2. Multiple program elements

Many employees like variety in their learning methodology. A varying methodology leads to more diverse opportunities for learning and growth to occur. Diversifying your program elements is a simple way for you to respect the diversity of your participants and create different opportunities for them to develop.
Consider:

  • how to best balance traditional ‘in-class’ style methods with online or virtual offerings
  • where you can offer opportunities for both ‘extraverted’ AND ‘introverted’ styles of learning and dialogue
  • how much of the program involves “pushing” information/content out rather than “pulling” information and expertise from participants
  • where there may be opportunities for coaching, both from those with more experience outside of the cohort AND within
  • if an opportunity for job shadowing might allow for a deeper and more boundaryless learning experience
  • if 360 reviews and self-assessments might provide insight into current leadership impact and unearth opportunities to coach others and help them grow and develop
  • your cohort model
    • a mixed cohort (a cross-collaboration of ages, years of experience, departments, etc.) increases the likelihood for boundaryless understanding and respect, participants to be presented with more diverse perspectives and understanding of how individual roles and departments work together to achieve the company’s objectives
  • your facilitators
    • ensure that you are presenting your participants with enthusiastic, engaging and experienced facilitators because there is nothing worse than sitting in front of a facilitator who isn’t engaged in what they are sharing.

3. Support

Support is a critical component of leadership development training. Here are three things you should keep in mind:

Focus on support from the beginning.

When I say from the beginning, I mean from the beginning. An invested manager should be suggesting appropriate employees to participate in leadership development programs, and communicating with program leads early on about what the manager role in the leadership development program will be.

Understand the program and what the employee’s participation will entail.

You can’t fully support an employee’s participation if you don’t understand what the program entails. A manager needs to get involved, ask questions and be clear on what they are saying yes to.

Provide continued support/career development conversations and coaching.

It’s not enough for a manager to suggest an employee and then say, “good luck.” A manager truly invested in the development of their employee needs to dedicate some time to truly support and coach their employee throughout their experience in the leadership development program.
 
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