What Kind of Leadership Development Actually Works in Businesses Today?

By Ian Cornett on September 15, 2016


As the ongoing boomer retirement crisis continues, leadership development is top of mind for many training and executive teams. Young managers are often stepping into roles that have evolved over time and have a very different skillset than their predecessors. While they can be very successful in these roles, these managers need leadership training and development to be truly effective. Without strong leadership, everything from morale to productivity takes a hit.

With an effective leadership succession plan you can groom employees to step into leadership positions without missing a beat. What works and what doesn’t? Here’s what we know.

It Works: Aligning Training with Business Goals

Before you even think of what your leadership development program will look like,  you need to define why the training is needed. What are the goals? What is the  purpose? How will the training truly benefit the organization and contribute to its success?

Outline the essential skills required to be successful in your organization and your industry. Then focus your training efforts on those areas. This kind of focus ensures that all of that training is actually put to use and benefits the organization and gives you a framework for measuring the success of your program.

It Works: Long-term Planning

You need a pipeline of leaders ready to step up when unforeseen circumstances like a sudden change in upper management happens. Along with the rest of your management team, pinpoint the natural leaders within your organization. Choose staff who have proven that they can take control of situations, help teammates focus, coach others, and so on.

Talk to them about their career goals, and for those interested in advancing into leadership roles, establish a career plan and set goals to fill in skills gaps. Remember, you need commitment from employees if you want leadership that works.

It Doesn’t Work: One and Done Training

leadership event can be very powerful to ready people for leadership positions, but to see a long-term impact of leadership development, don’t stop with one event. Over time, individuals will forget some of the lessons learned during a training event. When training is an ongoing initiative, rather than a “one and done” event, continuous retention is essential to provide you with a return on your training investment. Leadership that works today requires an ongoing, consistent approach to increase skills and knowledge. Executives, HR, and department managers should coordinate efforts to mentor leadership candidates and offer them learning and growth opportunities.

Accountability is key for any ongoing initiative. Setting goals around training, such as reaching certain levels of knowledge or achieving certain business metrics, can help you ensure leadership development is applied throughout the organization.

It Works: Showing People How to Use Their Training on the Job

When things are running smoothly, profits are high, and people are happy, leading is easy. But, what about when everything is going wrong? In order to learn new skills, leaders need to be put in situations that challenge them and test their knowledge.

Assign real on-the-job projects that not only grow employees’ skills but also have a direct impact on the organization or business. The training will be more meaningful if something is at stake, and you can evaluate leadership candidates’ ability to handle pressure.

If you don’t have an immediate practical situation but want to develop leaders for the future, consider experiential training activities that immerse participants in a cleverly disguised work-like situations where participants practice skills hands-on, then debrief them to show the application of the activity to reality. This approach creates the same results as real on-the-job projects, but can be widely available to employees, not on a one-project-at-a-time basis.

It Works: Promoting Cross-functional Teamwork

Offer high-potential leadership candidates opportunities to work with other departments. Ask them to complete special projects, attend meetings or training sessions, and collaborate with people not on their team.

This gives them insight into the inner-workings of the organization and a big-picture view of how the business functions, both of which will come in handy as they move up the ranks.

It Doesn’t Work: Neglecting Soft Skills

When leaders fail, it’s typically not because they lack the technical skills or experience needed for the job. They fail because they don’t have the ability to communicate, listen, motivate, cooperate, or collaborate. Make sure that those critical skills are a big component of your training.

Remember, your goal is not to find specific people to fill specific roles. Instead, your goal is to create a system that empowers and grows employees, providing a continuous stream of leaders who are ready to take over when the need arises. You want leadership that works, and a well-crafted succession plan and a thorough leadership development program will ensure that.


Ian has been with Eagle’s Flight since 1997, and is Executive Vice President, Global Accounts. He holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing from the University of British Columbia. Ian spent 12 years at Nestlé Canada and brings a wide range of experience that includes practical business experience in management, sales, program design, development and mentoring. He works closely with the Global licensees to ensure their success as they represent Eagle’s Flight in the worldwide marketplace. He has developed outstanding communication skills and currently is the Executive in Charge of a large Fortune 500 client with a team of employees dedicated to this specific account. As a result, Ian has been instrumental in driving the company’s growth and strategic direction.



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