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Want an Organization Filled with Great Leaders? Then Build Them from the Ground Up

“We have a bunch of high-potential employees we want to keep. We’ve got to offer them something in the way of development.”

“These people are going to have direct reports soon and we need to prepare them. Otherwise, I know some will fail. It’s not fair to ask people to lead with no preparation.”

“Our leaders are leaders in title only, and we need to do something quickly. We’re losing good front-line employees. I don’t know how we ended up in this situation.”

Organizations create leadership development program for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes they are proactive, sometimes they are reactive, all times they can be more successful if their programs include a few essential elements and follow some established best practices.

  1. Choose Meaningful Content

No two leadership development programs look exactly alike. Some include such elements as leadership behaviors and employee development skills. Others incorporate technical content or project management in addition to soft skills. There is no one-size-fits-all formula, but there is a one-size-fits-all rule: Leadership development program content should be relevant and immediately useful to the people who participate. If you miss the mark on content, don’t be surprised when your program flops.

  1. Develop from Multiple Angles

Great leadership development programs leverage more than classroom time. They include books, discussion groups, projects, mentoring, and sometimes internal or external coaching. These added activities reinforce the classroom message and accelerate the learning process. Think about your content and the various ways you can deliver it.

  1. Model Your Program After Something Established

Nothing says you must create a program from scratch, so look around before diving in. As begin researching, you will quickly discover there is a large body of work that exists, and there are countless companies that have established solutions. A few ideas from one perspective paired with some from another and your knowledge of your participants and organization should save you some time and yield a custom-tailored approach that makes sense in your environment.

  1. Allow Time

Development isn’t instant. It takes time, and good leadership development programs build in space for life to happen and for participants to practice what they’re learning.

When you’re designing your program, be realistic about what you can accomplish in a given period, and know that an intensive six days is going to yield a different result than a thorough six months.

  1. Choose Facilitators and Coaches Participants Will Respect

Should we outsource the sessions? Should the same facilitator lead all the classroom portions of our program? Can we use inside resources to keep costs down? Maybe. Everyone organization is its own animal. Some people like the continuity of using the same instructor for all or most classroom session. Other organizations like to shake it up and bring in an expert for each topic. Just as with content selection, there isn’t a right answer, but there is a right approach. Think through various options and ask yourself what makes the most sense for your group.

  1. Make It Special

People who go through a selection process of some kind are usually more excited about participating in leadership development programs than their colleagues who enter programs that have a come-as-you-are-and-when-you-like policy. Consider using a nomination and recommendation process when selecting your program’s participants.

  1. Show Buy-In from the Top

Buy-in from the top communicates a sense of specialness and commitment, and having the CEO or another senior member of leadership kick off a program can go a long way toward showing participants that the initiative is important. With advances in technology, the kickoff does not have to be in person or for that matter live. You can easily use video conferencing technology to broadcast or record a message.

  1. Don’t Use Money an Excuse to Do Nothing

If your business is so small that you only have one or two people to develop, consider signing the employee up for a public program. If that expense is still too much, think about partnering with another business or two and building something together. If that’s not practical, investigate internal mentoring and online learning. With what’s available for little or no cost, there’s just no excuse to do nothing.

  1. Evaluate Your Efforts

Landing on the perfect leadership development formula usually takes time. Furthermore, as changes occur in the world, most programs need a refresh. To stay current and to refine your approach, ask your program participants for feedback. If you’re sincere in your desire to improve, most people will usually give you sincere and helpful information. Listen to what they say and take the feedback to heart without taking it personally.

Growing leaders from the ground up takes time. Fortunately, the payoffs can be huge, and the investment is almost always worth the effort. If you start today, just think where your organization could be in a year or two.

Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie

About the Author:

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit

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