A Definitive Guide to Leader Development Programs

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published January 3, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many companies create leader development programs to help their employees excel in leadership roles within the company. Using these programs can help existing and potential leaders in many aspects of their jobs, such as improving project leadership and teaching them how to make better decisions for their team and the company overall. Learning more about leader development programs can help you determine whether you might want to implement one where you work. In this article, we discuss what a leadership program is, what to include when implementing one and some benefits.

Related: Identifying Leadership Potential and Building Leadership Skills

What is a leader development program?

A leader development program is an approach businesses use to invest in employees with leadership potential. They implement these programs so employees can learn the skills required to eventually take a more senior-level role within the company. Leadership development programs can focus on many aspects of leadership, including project planning, how to build trust and respect, improving problem-solving skills and how to coach employees to improve their work performance.

The leadership development programs a business chooses can depend on the skills their employees need to become leaders. Some businesses choose programs for emerging leaders which focus more on learning new leadership skills. Others look to train senior leaders with years of prior experience in a leadership role, which concentrate on improving skills they already know and developing new strategies to lead employees at a more senior level.

Related: How To Improve Your Leadership Skills: Steps and Tips

What to include in a leader development program

There are a few elements you may want to include in an organization's leader development program, such as:

Experienced instructors

Try to include instructors who have extensive prior experience in leadership roles within the company. It's also helpful if they've got clear communication skills so they can effectively convey their expectations and instructions to the people in the program. They can also give more examples from personal experience in similar roles and answer questions that employees may have.

Related: Teacher Leadership: A Definitive Guide

Small groups

When beginning a leadership development program, consider starting with a small group of six to 12 employees who already have leadership roles. The instructors can mentor them regarding ways they can improve their leadership skills, such as being decisive, providing constructive feedback and delegating tasks. As they get more comfortable with those skills, the company may choose to increase the size of the program. They can give some people who have gone through the training program an opportunity to prove their leadership skills by allowing them to become instructors as the company inducts more employees into the program.

Different learning methods

Most employees in the leadership programs learn in different ways, so consider offering them multiple outlets to learn the information. For example, some people are auditory learners and learn best by listening to the instructors speak. Others learn from hands-on experience and may benefit from practicing the strategies with other people in the program. Instructors can create a differentiated experience for all members of the program that includes written materials, videos and tactile experiences, so all the learners have the opportunity to understand the information in a manner that best suits their learning style.

Related: Learning Theory: Definition and Types of Learning Theory

SMART goals

It can be useful for instructors to spend time with each person in the program to determine their long-term goals. With that information, they can help employees set SMART goals to achieve them. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. Setting goals can help measure each person's progress throughout the duration of the program and after they've completed it. They can also set smaller short-term goals to help them achieve their larger long-term goal.

Related: 4 Steps for Setting Leadership Goals in the Workplace (With Examples)

Strategies for finding new leaders

Once the first group of members has completed some of their goals, management may want to consider using a variety of strategies to seek new leaders within the company. Some strategies to use include:

  • Evaluate their interest in the company: Look for employees who are highly interested in helping the company meet and exceed its goals and contribute valuable ideas and methods to improve current workplace processes.

  • Conduct frequent performance reviews: Rather than yearly reviews, try reviewing employees on a more regular basis. This can help management determine which employees have leadership objectives they want to fulfill.

  • Offer temporary job rotations: Allow people who are interested in the leadership program the opportunity to work in different leadership roles in the company. The differing roles can challenge them and demonstrate whether they have the skills the company is looking for in a leadership position.

Continuous support

After leaders have completed the development program, try to ensure they receive ongoing support from their instructors and one another. They can decide as a group how often to meet to discuss their progress regarding the skills and strategies they've learned. Having guidance and encouragement may also keep them motivated to achieve more of their leadership goals in the future.

Benefits of leader development programs

There are many benefits a company may receive when they implement a leadership development program, including:

  • Increase employee retention: Many employees appreciate the opportunity to learn and grow in their role in a business. Offering opportunities for employees to improve their current abilities and learn new ones that could lead to promotion may increase employee retention.

  • Decrease costs: If employees decide to stay with a company long-term due to professional development training, such as leadership programs, it can decrease the cost associated with consistently hiring new employees.

  • Improve employee engagement: Investing in a leader development program can improve employee engagement by motivating them to implement the new skills they've learned in the training. All the employees in the training can collaborate and determine the best ways to effectively use their new leadership strategies.

  • Create effective departments: Once an employee has finished the leadership program, they can use those strategies to make changes to the department that positively affect the entire team. By improving their communication skills and ability to delegate, they can make their department more effective and function more efficiently.

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