A Step-by-Step Approach to Developing Leaders

Critical-Steps18378410BlogThere is no question that leadership development remains a top priority for many organizations. As we continue to prepare for the retirement of baby boomers, learning and development (L&D) professionals continue to focus on identifying and growing tomorrow’s leaders. Organizations rank developing leaders as one of their most critical issues, according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report. Eighty-six percent of all surveyed HR and business leaders cite leadership as one of their most important challenges and feel they are actually falling behind in this important activity.

Step 1: Identifying Your Future Leaders

The first challenge that organizations have to face is identifying the right leaders. Too often subject matter experts are promoted and then struggle to make the transition to managing people. A study from Gallup found that eight out of every 10 leaders do not have the characteristics of basic managerial talent. In a 2012 blog, Global Knowledge identified the competencies that indicate leadership potential:LeadershipPotentialFactors

  • Cognitive complexity and capacity
  • Drive and achievement orientation
  • Learning orientation: self and others
  • Personal and business ethics
  • Motivation to lead
  • Social and emotional complexity and capacity


Step 2: Identify Your Development Approach

There are three approaches organizations can take to developing current and future leaders: curriculum-based, personalized/needs-driven or a hybrid approach.

With a curriculum-based approach, a leadership program is designed and all leaders are expected to participate in the whole program, regardless of their existing level of competency. The main benefit to this approach is that everyone is exposed to the same information. A common language is developed and common models and tools are shared for application on the job.

Veteran managers may not want to retrain on something they already consider themselves to be proficient in. The reality is that there is always room to grow. Because decision-making is so complex, even an experienced professional can benefit from retraining. However, an experienced manager who enters training with the wrong mindset will not be open to spotting those opportunities or fully taking advantage of the training.

Often in this case, Global Knowledge recommends using competency, personality and/or multi-rater assessments to help newer and experienced managers develop more self-awareness about areas where more professional development may be required.

The second approach that an organization can take is to allow leaders to develop personalized and needs-driven learning plans. With this customized approach leaders can select development activities that will help them close their personal skills gaps or improve competencies. Because this approach is focused, learners feel that their time is being spent on high-value learning activities. It is also more aligned to how today’s professionals want to learn. With unlimited information at our fingertips online, people are used to being able to search out what is interesting to them while filtering out the rest.

One potential downside to this approach is that leaders may not be fully aware of their professional development deficiencies and may overlook some areas of need. Assessments can help to circumvent this potential problem.

A personalized and needs-based approach is also harder to administer for human resources, L&D and the learner’s manager. In a self-driven leadership program, the learner’s manager needs to take a much more active role in order to help the learner: identify opportunities for growth and development, get the most from their development activities, and apply and refine what they have learned.

More and more we are seeing organizations take a hybrid approach. They may offer a standard curriculum for new or future leaders, and use a personalized and needs-driven approach for tenured leaders. This is really the best of both worlds. Organizations can use their standard curriculum to establish a baseline level of knowledge and then create individual plans to continue the leader’s personalized development throughout his or her career.

Step 3: Identify Your Leadership Success Profile

The third step organizations need to take is to create a well-defined leadership success profile—which is critical for success. A success profile can include different elements:



  • Competencies
  • Personality traits
  • Job, organization or industry-specific knowledge
  • Experience

In some cases organizations may decide to identify different success profiles for different levels of leaders. For example, for first-level leaders they may decide to use competencies and knowledge only, but for more senior leaders they may add additional elements.


Identifying and developing leaders is no easy task. Organizations have many choices to make and making wrong decisions can negatively impact business performance and employee engagement. Getting advice from experts like Global Knowledge, who have helped hundreds of companies on this important journey, can be a good place to start.

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