Organizational Wellness

An HR Leader’s Guide to Implementing Leadership Development

Feb 16, 2023
Last Updated Jun 1, 2023

“Follow the Leader” is a pretty fun game… unless the leader has no idea what they’re doing. That might be okay in the kid’s game, but in a workplace, employees rightly expect that their leaders are capable and knowledgeable.

Strikingly, that’s not always the case. Recent research shows that only 23%of U.S. employees strongly trust the leadership of their organizations. When nearly 4 of every 5 employees don’t have faith in their company leadership, something is amiss. 

So what’s the answer to this problem? Well, this is where leadership development can come into play. More than 80%of organizations agree leadership development is important on all levels, and companies like EY, Adobe and Upwork are out there putting it in practiceright now with great success. 

So what is leadership development? Why does it matter? And how do you do it? We’ll walk you through all this (and more). 

What Is Leadership Development? 

Leadership development is a set of activities that helps a person prepare and grow as a leader. It’s important to remember that leadership is a behavior, not a position, so this concept is as relevant to entry-level workers as it is to the c-suite. It’s about empowering somebody to take charge in the role they have or helping them grow for a role they may have in the future.

Leadership development can encompass a variety of skills and behaviors, including: 

Organizations can create a leadership development planthat helps them prepare to train and develop future leaders at the company. 

Why Is Leadership Development Important? 

Okay, it’s nice to know what leadership development is, but why should you care? After all, what’s leadership development actually going to do for your employees and your company? 

A lot! Here are some key benefits you could see from implementing leadership development at your company: 

  • Builds a stronger future. Leadership development helps you shape the future of your workplace. It enhances the skills of your current managers, nourishing your company now so you have a strong base upon which to build. It can also develop future leaders, making it easier to promote from within. This sort of future-oriented leadership makes it easier to controlyour budget and company goals.
  • Boosts soft and hard skills. Soft skills — like teamwork, time management and communication — are as crucial to worklife as they are home life. Hard skills — think computer coding, copy editing or graphic design — allow people to execute the technical aspects of their jobeffectively. Leadership requires both hard and soft skills. If you’re the head of a magazine production team, for example, you need to know both how to create a story layout and communicate production deadlines to your team. Since leadership development develops both hard and soft skills, you are nurturing both types of skill sets across your company.
  • Improves employee retention. Employees leaving is hard on the budget: It costs, on average, 6 to 9 months of an employee’s salary to replace them, so it makes sense that most companies are looking for ways to improve employee retention. Luckily, developing leaders is one way to improve the employee experience at the company. According to Lorman, 86% of millennials would’ve stayed at their job if development and training had been offered. So, in this instance, leadership development could be the deciding factor on whether employees find your company worth staying at.

Goals of Leadership Development

Leadership development is pretty cool, obviously. Let’s dive a little deeper into the specific goals of leadership development so you can get a solid idea of what these programs can deliver. 

Improve Leadership Skills

At its core, this development is all about helping people learn and improve their leadership skills. We briefly touched on a few that could be included in a leadership development plan, but we’re going to dig into several in-detail here: 

  • Agility. Agility is all about overseeing change, navigating challenges, and handling difficult situations with grace and flexibility. This is a foundational skill for leaders when challenges inevitably arise. A leader who approaches these issues from several angles and seeks innovative solutions will be more prepared to find resolutions to unforeseen issues.  
  • Leadership competencies. Leadership competencies are skills and behaviors that can be learned to function as a superior leader. There are several important leadership competenciesyou can develop, including social intelligence, ability to learn, crisis management, and the list goes on. A strong leadership development plan could include refining these skills.
  • Management skills.Management is the responsibility of controlling some sort of group to achieve an end goal. Leadership is the ability to motivate and inspire others to assist in an organization’s success. Leadership might not always equate with being a manager. But when it does, it’s important to have your leaders know how to lead and how to manage. So if you’re not sure where to start with business executive development, you can start with the qualities of a good manager. A few examples of good management skills are clear communication, time management, delegation, and confidence.
  • Teaching skills. Leadership isn’t just about, well… leading. Leading also requires teaching. Think about it this way: a teacher needs to be able to reach people and connect with them in a way that moves people forward, just like a leader needs to connect with team members and  facilitate growth. As a bonus, when someone is able to teach a process, they’re better able to support others doing that same work.

A Boost to the Bottom Line

At the end of the day, you are a business — you have to make money or go under. Cash flow is important, so things that increase revenue or decrease expenses are understandably a priority. 

Luckily, leadership development can help you improve the bottom line. A strong learning culture leads to 52% more productivity, according to a Deloitte study, and leadership development is all about growth and improvement. Plus, as companies prove to employees that they care about their growth, those employees are much more likely to put in the effort to become better, leading to increased engagementas well. 

Improving leadership within your organization can also reduce your expenses. A survey conducted last year of employees who quit their jobs found that nearly 80%of them did so because of a lack of appreciation from their leaders. Talk about the ability to have a major influence! If your leaders know how to show their appreciation (a great soft skill), it’s going to help your employee retention. And remember those grizzly numbers about how much it costs to replace just oneemployee? Yeah, let’s skip that expense by implementing leadership development! 

Talent Acquisition

Unemployment is at 3.7%, which makes it difficult to hire new teammates. Why? Well, it means that 96.3% of US adults who can work and are seeking a job are currently employed. That could mean you are facing a labor shortageright now. A labor shortage means to get the best talent out there, you have to be competitive. 

Let’s review that earlier stat: 79%of employees will quit their jobs because of a lack of appreciation from their leaders. So people are quitting because of bad leadership, and the highly competitive hiring market puts the potential candidates in control. And that means that companies who have put in the work to develop great leaders are looking pretty great out there right now.

Leadership Development Hurdles

Okay, so what’s the catch? Leadership development sounds great, so there has to be a downside, right? Well, not really. But there are some pitfalls that companies can fall into if they don’t follow leadership development best practices. Let’s go through some potential challenges and how to mitigate them. 

Institutional Pitfalls

These are a few structural hurdles your company may face with programs like these: 

  • Lack of resources.It’s hard to move forward without funding for training and development. How can you mitigate this? Get your c-suite teams on board, hopefully by explaining all of these great benefits that will make the commitments worthwhile.
  • Lack of strategy. If you don’t have a plan, your executive development could get lost along the way. Luckily, this one has an easy fix: creating a solid leadership development plan. A great leadership development plan will include a clear career vision, craft a realistic timeline, and include actions and steps to take in developing leadership.
  • Focusing only on current leaders.Your current leaders are important, but they’re not the only leaders your company will ever have. Remember, leadership is a skill, not a position. Don’t forget to include future leaders. Start developing their abilities to keep your company strong in the long run.
  • Not measuring KPIs.You need to know how your plan is performing if you want to make sure it’s being fine-tuned and improved. So don’t forget to measure key performance indicators (KPIs) as you implement leadership development. Whether it be team retention, skill assessments, or number of 1-1’s completed, determining KPI’s from the start is vital for leadership development.
  • Misunderstanding current mindsets. Where’s your team at right now? How are they viewing leadership and your organization? It’s important to know where you’re starting, so you can work toward creating a leadership development plan that aligns with your organization’s realities and goals. 

Individual Challenges

In addition to structural challenges, individuals will face stumbling blocks on the road of leadership development. Here are some of the challenges to prepare to overcome: 

  • Lack of follow through. Individuals need to follow-through with the development plan to really work on growing as a leader. 
  • Generational differences in values. Not everyone values the same aspects of leadership, so it’s important to find a nice balance and to explain the importance of why you’re choosing certain aspects. 
  • Lack of time. This one is probably one of the biggest challenges. Everyone needs more time, right? It’s important to help employees understand the benefits, so they’re willing to dedicate their time. But don’t forget that, as the employer, it’s possible to help shift loads around so future leaders have the time to develop. 
  • Inability to retain and apply knowledge in changing situations.  It can be hard to know how to put things into practice. Creating environments where you can apply principles learned is a great way to practice application to situations. Examples include role-playing exercises and starting off with smaller projects. Understanding how to use the knowledge you possess is a valuable skill.

Key Aspects to Consider in Leadership Development Programs

So where do you get started? Here are some key aspects to get you started with leadership development: 

Identifying Potential Leaders

Find who you want to develop. You probably have some obvious choices to start with like management and team leaders, and you should definitely spend time developing those leaders. But don’t forget to identify potential leaders as you create your leadership development program. One way to find potential leaders is identifying who is in line for a promotion in the next few years and start nurturing the skills they will need for that next run on your corporate ladder.

Leadership Diversity

Having diversity in your leadership is a boon to your company for a variety of reasons. From developing a culture that is more inclusive and comfortable for employees, to utilizing a broader set of experiences to help problem solve, diversity helps companies be more competitive and agile. Studies show that companies with diverse management teams see 19%more revenue than companies with below-average leadership diversity, and companies that increase their female leadership by 10% experienced a 10%revenue increase. 

Tactics to Facilitate Leadership Development

Helping your current and future leaders can have many forms. When creating a leadership development plan, consider the following tactics to help support your employees:

  • 1-1 mentorship opportunities:Let good leaders create good leaders, which also gives strong mentors the chance to practice their skills.
  • Group-based learning:Expand the thinking of your current leadership with group-based discussions, brainstorms, and problem-solving. 
  • Leader-to-leader development:This is especially helpful for new executive hires. Consider developing onboarding for new hires so they’re oriented from the start.
  • Emphasize emotional intelligence:Workplace issues or lack of productivity can be due to emotional blocks, not just bottlenecks in workflow. Encourage emotional intelligence and explore solutions with leaders that are feeling-based as well as more concrete issues. 

The Bottom Line

Overall, leadership development is a great way to strengthen guidance and motivation within your company. It can help everyone on all levels continue to grow and develop. And, while leadership development programs matter, they’re not the only programs you should be working on to continue making your company a great place to work. Talk to a wellbeing specialisttoday to learn more!  

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Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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