The key aspects of a successful leadership development strategy

Published on 29-12-2017

Some leaders are born, many are made. But how are leaders made? Integrating our key aspects into your company’s leadership development strategy can help to develop stronger and more capable leaders, save time and money, and boost morale. 

A Deloitte study (2015) found that 56% of executives believe their companies are not ready to meet today’s leadership needs. Since then many companies have responded and actively invested in leadership development programs. According to Jesse Demmel, vice president of platform engineering at Under Armour, “Some leaders are born. Many are made.” But not all attempts to ‘make’ leaders are successful. Matt Norquist, CEO of Linkage, a global leadership development consultancy firm, believes that “despite all the effort, a lot of the companies I see aren’t making sustainable progress.”

So, what are the key ingredients for a successful leadership development strategy?

At CompanyMatch we agreed on the following four key aspects:

  1. Structured progression
  2. Alignment with business goals & culture
  3. Frequent measuring of programs
  4. Flexibility and curiosity

Let’s have a closer look at all four!

Structured Progression

One of the biggest enemies of successful leadership development is inconsistent progression. Many organisations make the mistake of providing managers with development opportunities on an extremely sporadic base. For example, leaders are expected to participate in hour-long online seminars once a year or employees only meet with their managers at annual reviews. This, however, will not do the job! Without a structured, ongoing development most of us tend to fall back in old habits; some of them good, others rather bad.
It is similar to learning to play the piano: You don’t just listen to a song on the radio and start copying it. First, you need to understand how to read music notes, then how the piano keys are arranged, how to place your fingers correctly, when to press the pedals, etc. You learn through practice, through instruction and through learning the theory behind it. and the best way to learn, is with frequent and well-structured lessons. The same counts for leadership development.

Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal. – Vince Lombardi

Frequent measuring of Leadership Development Programmes

Does the leadership development programme your company invests in actually improve the leadership qualities of your managers? It is important to measure the results over time to not only track your managers development but also to see if the chosen programme suits your company’s culture and goals.
One method is to assess the extent of behavioural change, by conducting a 360 degree-feedback exercise at the beginning of a programme and another one after 6 to 12 months. This is also a great way for the leaders themselves to illustrate their commitment to the organisation and their own development. A CEO, for example, can publish own results (good & bad) of the exercise on the company’s internal platform, along with a personal commitment to improve.

The second approach is based on statistics and monitoring the career development of the programme’s participants. How many were appointed to more senior roles one to two years after the programme? How many senior people in the organisation went through leadership training? How many left the company? By analysing those statistics, it becomes clear if employees that participated in leadership development programmes were more successful than those who had not.

Alignment With Business Goals & Culture

Aligning your leadership development strategy with your company’s goals and culture is crucial for its success. After all, those leadership development efforts should support you company on a long term basis and attract talent who fit your company’s culture. So, ask yourself the question: Why do you want to develop leaders?
Is it to support innovation, increase global market knowledge, improve operations, strengthen your company’s culture or something else?
According to the Center of Creative Leadership (CCL), companies must establish those so-called key drivers first before they can integrate a leadership development strategy successfully. “Particularly as budgets for leadership headcount and development tighten, it is more critical than ever to demonstrate a clear line of sight between investments in leadership and desired organisational outcomes,” states a CCL white paper by William Pasmore.

Continual Flexibility And Curiosity

Unfortunately, there is no perfect road map for the journey towards a successful leadership development strategy. And the marked routes may  not necessarily fit your company. It is important to understand the difference between ‘best practice’ and ‘best fit’. You are going walk in the wrong direction, make mistakes, and might get lost for a while. But don’t panic! Just adjust, grow, develop and, most importantly, stay curious. The most successful organisations take steps to align the business with leadership development, creating a strong pipeline that understands what it is now, what it wants to be, and how to get there.

I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next. – Steve Jobs

Interested in more? CompanyMatch published a white paper about the real costs of a bad hire. Based on recent studies, we explored topics such as cultural fit, employer branding, corporate culture and many more. To download the full report for free, please fill out the form below!