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The 6 Essential Steps for Building Leadership Development in the Workplace

Whether you are a new leader learning the ropes, or it’s your responsibility to develop leaders in your organization, it is a massive responsibility.

Organizations often take high-performing individuals and promote them to a leadership or managerial position because they excelled in their previous role. While there’s nothing wrong with this, organizations also need to provide opportunities for those new leaders and veteran leaders alike to gain the skills needed to be successful in leadership-specific roles. They need the skills to get work done through and with other people. They need to know how to manage people, and people are complicated.

Without proper skill development, a leader can quickly experience burnout and high levels of dissatisfaction, which can greatly impact the engagement of their employees. Luckily, taking small steps to build leadership development can bring great rewards.

What Is Leadership Development?

Learning and development (L&D) refers broadly to everything an employee needs to do their job effectively, including technical and tactical training. Leadership development, on the other hand, addresses all of that and more. Instead of simply working toward providing training on specific skills to equip people with the tools they need for their role, leadership development dives more into the behavioral and psychological realms.

These questions are often explored during leadership development:

  • Who am I as a person and a leader?
  • What behaviors do I need to exhibit?
  • How do I facilitate the work of others?
  • How does my personality impact my impulses as a leader?
  • What does my team need, and in what ways can I fill those gaps?

At its core, leadership development is ultimately focused on helping individuals expand the skills needed to manage people and projects, like team management, decision-making, building interpersonal connections, developing strategies, exercising innovation, and more.

Why Is Leadership Development Important?

If an organization has competitive and comprehensive leadership development priorities, it has a competitive edge in its industry.

Developing capable, energetic leaders helps to attract and retain top talent, both within leadership and otherwise. When people respect their leaders and feel supported by them, they are more likely to stay and invest valuable time with a company. If leaders themselves feel supported by their organization, they are likewise more likely to stay. In this way, leadership development really comes down to making sure that people have the tools they need to keep others engaged.

Another benefit of quality leadership development is that it can greatly impact overall company culture. It benefits people and organizations on multiple levels, from the self, to the team, to the entire organization, and finally, to customers and other stakeholders.

Having individuals who can build and maintain great team cohesion, engagement, and retention creates the conditions necessary for psychological safety. When people feel psychologically safe in their work environment, they feel they have the freedom and opportunity to take risks, be innovative, and embrace their creativity. Over time, this culminates in less employee turnover, which will save a great deal of money.

Furthermore, developing your leaders and creating a culture of psychological safety means you have highly engaged teams, making it much easier to achieve organizational goals and objectives.

6 Steps to Develop Leadership in the Workplace

Developing a leadership development plan in the workplace can seem daunting. However, following just a few key steps can greatly transform your people and your leaders.

Define Good Leadership

Progress can only begin if everyone uses a common definition. To uncover what leadership might specifically mean for your organization, ask these questions:

  • Where do you see leaders most in your company?
  • What responsibilities do these leaders have?
  • Is leadership a key pillar in your organization’s mission or vision?
  • What characteristics do your most valued leaders have in common?

Sometimes, what leadership is for an organization is spelled out explicitly in a mission statement or something similar. Sometimes it’s not, and the sense of importance around leadership is implicitly woven into company culture. If, however, the role of leadership is not yet fully explained, be sure to take the time to consider what a good leader looks like for your organization. People need to know what to aim for.

Identify Who Your Leaders Are

Once you have a definition of what good leadership means for you, you can identify who your leaders are. It may be very clear who your leaders are based on the way you have organized your people, but keep in mind that not all leaders are in managerial positions or are people leaders.

You may have great leaders who do not have any reports but are instead responsible for the management of great projects, extensive collaboration, and leading themselves. These “leaders of self” are highly valuable and deserve leadership development opportunities as well.

Decide What Success Looks Like

Before establishing effective and achievable development goals for your leaders, start small and begin by defining what success is for you. This will look different depending on your company and specific goals, but many organizations decide to establish success early on as reaching a certain number of people with a specific training program. Others may define success as increased engagement, and others still may define it as something else. In any case, think through what your purpose is for providing leadership development and consider ways to track it.

Introduce a Framework

The goal of all good leaders is to facilitate engagement and performance, and it’s important to have language and a guide for thinking about what that is and how it’s achieved. There are numerous frameworks and models for thinking about leadership and engagement; we at GP Strategies have developed our own popular model, known as The X Model of Engagement.

The X Model explains how employees can experience both maximum satisfaction and maximum contribution at the same time, resulting in maximum engagement, which benefits individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole.

Introducing ways of thinking to leaders and employees about overall performance objectives will provide everyone with a common nomenclature to use as a benchmark.

Begin Offering Small Development Opportunities

In the beginning, you really do not need every cutting-edge platform or type of learning opportunity. The goal should be to provide development and training opportunities that fit into the flow of work and meet people at their learning need.

Scalability is another important consideration when choosing what kind of opportunities to provide. Can what you are providing your leaders be adjusted so it is as relevant for that new manager as it is for a veteran leader of self?

Beyond formal development opportunities, simply bringing people together can have a massive impact on engagement. Arranging common readings of professional development books, hosting lunch-and-learns, and promoting mentorship programs are simple activities to organize that can all have a great impact for leaders and employee engagement alike.

Measure Leadership Development Outcomes

Deciding how to measure outcomes is a critical step of the planning process, and determining the best way to do it can feel elusive to many—so elusive, in fact, that some people don’t even attempt to measure outcomes at all. However, being able to track progress is crucial and provides opportunities to make calculated adjustments later. Some organizations choose to piggyback off HR metrics that already exist, some decide to conduct surveys, and others develop entirely new systems for tracking results of leadership development.

The best place to start is to consider what it is you already measure and whether any of those metrics may be impacted (or not) by leadership development. You can always develop more complex systems for assessing the effectiveness of your leadership development initiatives down the line.

Creating Leadership Development Goals

After you have a basic system in place to develop the leaders within your organization, your goals should shift toward optimizing the experience. Develop new goals as you introduce new programs or initiatives and the metrics that align with them. Consistently revisit what you are working toward and ensure that those goals are aligned with what your organization’s overall objectives are and what your leaders need to thrive.

For help creating a cutting-edge leadership development program that is scalable and aligned with your organizational objectives and cultivates high-performing teams, reach out to GP Strategies and discover how a workforce transformation partner can make this process as rewarding as possible.

About the Authors

GP Strategies Corporation
GP Strategies is a global performance improvement solutions provider of sales and technical training, e-Learning solutions, management consulting and engineering services. GP Strategies' solutions improve the effectiveness of organizations by delivering innovative and superior training, consulting and business improvement services, customized to meet the specific needs of its clients. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, manufacturing, process and energy industries, and other commercial and government customers.

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