What is leadership development? Key concepts and benefits explained

Leadership development involves refining leaders' skills through education and consistent practice. It enables managers and aspiring leaders to enhance their knowledge, check their performance, and learn new concepts.

Whether implementing a leadership development program or embarking on your journey as a leader, recognizing the importance of leadership development and the skills to nurture will contribute to your success.

What is leadership development?

Leadership development is the process of improving the leadership abilities of any individual within a company or organization.

Leadership development focuses on honing and refining specific essential characteristics while providing opportunities to acquire new skills.

Ultimately, leadership development looks different for everyone. Since everyone possesses unique skill sets and learning styles, tailor the development program to the individual.

Leadership development takes time. It's a journey that can take years. The best leaders continue to grow and develop over their entire careers.

7 reasons why leadership development is important

Here are some of the most compelling reasons to invest in leadership development:

  1. Increasing revenue: effective leadership programs enable leaders to make strategic decisions and drive revenue.
  2. Improving employee engagement and productivity: leadership development programs improve employee engagement and productivity by equipping leaders with the skills to motivate, inspire, and support their teams.
  3. Reducing employee turnover: investing in leadership development demonstrates a company's commitment to its employees' growth, leading to increased job satisfaction and low employee turnover.
  4. Showing commitment to your employees: leadership development helps identify and nurture future leaders, ensuring a strong talent pipeline that can adapt to changing business needs.
  5. Preparing your business for the future: effective development programs equip leaders with the skills and mindset necessary to navigate complex challenges, adapt to changing market conditions, and drive innovation, thereby preparing your business for an ever-evolving landscape.
  6. Following through on your business strategy: well-trained leaders are better prepared to align their teams' efforts with the organization's strategic goals, facilitating the successful execution of business strategies.
  7. Closing skill gaps and creating more leaders: leadership development programs provide opportunities for employees to acquire new skills, close skill gaps, and develop leadership capabilities, creating a pool of capable leaders within the organization.

What skills do leaders need to develop?

While every leader brings different skills and strengths, there are specific core competencies that all great leaders should strive to develop and refine: 

Delegating

Delegation is a critical skill that enables leaders to assign tasks to the most suitable team members based on their abilities and potential. Effective delegation inspires and motivates people while challenging them to take ownership of their work.

For a company's success, the right employees must perform the right tasks to meet organizational goals. Effective delegation also fosters a culture of empowerment and growth by developing your teams’ skills.

Leadership development programs should include training on delegation techniques to optimize team performance and cultivate a growth-oriented culture.

Influencing

Being influential means guiding or persuading others to achieve a desired outcome. Influential leaders can encourage employees to reach organizational goals and achieve company standards. 

While some people may naturally influence others, most leaders must develop this skill by practicing active listening, building rapport, and demonstrating commitment to the team's success.

Leadership development programs should incorporate training on influence techniques to equip leaders with the tools to effectively inspire and motivate their teams.

Coaching

Coaching involves providing guidance, support, and feedback to help employees develop skills, overcome challenges, and reach their full potential.

These skills help attract and retain top talent, as employees feel confident receiving the necessary resources and support to develop their careers.

Leadership development programs should include access to coaching support to help managers effectively guide and encourage team excellence.

Strategic thinking

Strong strategic thinking skills enable leaders to positively impact an organization's day-to-day structure and systems, ensuring smooth operations and clear employee roles in reaching company goals.

Leadership development programs should include strategic thinking sessions and exercises that encourage creative thinking in trainees while keeping the big picture in mind.

Executive presence

Executive presence is the ability to command attention and inspire confidence in others. 

Developing this skill can also influence access to opportunities, such as high-visibility projects or promotions.

Leadership development programs should include steps for creating executive presence to empower aspiring leaders, enhance their communication skills, and enable them to operate well even under stress.

Resilience

Resilience is essential for helping leaders navigate unexpected situations.

Leadership development training should encompass mastering mental and emotional resilience and transforming setbacks into opportunities for growth and success.

The components of leadership development

Here are a few building blocks for developing a well-rounded leadership development program:

Leadership assessments

Leadership assessments are essential tools for individuals and organizations to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement in leadership skills and competencies. These assessments provide valuable insights into personal development needs and help create targeted growth plans. 

There are various types of leadership assessments, including personality assessments, 360-degree feedback, emotional intelligence assessments, and leadership competency assessments. These tools help people gain self-awareness and develop a roadmap for their leadership journey. 

At the same time, organizations can identify high-potential employees, create customized leadership development programs, and ensure a strong pipeline of future leaders.

Customized content 

Customized content is a crucial component of effective leadership development programs. The program should ensure relevance by creating training materials and resources that directly address the specific needs and challenges faced by leaders within the organization. 

Tailored content helps leaders acquire the skills and knowledge most pertinent to their roles and the organization's goals, increasing the likelihood of successful implementation and improved performance.

Blended learning 

Blended learning approaches are another element of successful leadership development programs, incorporating a mix of learning methods, such as classroom training, online courses, workshops, simulations, and experiential learning, which cater to different learning styles and provide a comprehensive learning experience. 

A diverse range of learning opportunities allows leaders to engage with the content in ways that best suit their preferences and needs, enhancing knowledge retention and skill acquisition. 

By offering a variety of learning modalities, leadership development programs can effectively support the growth and development of leaders at all levels within the organization.

Practical application

It is crucial for leadership development programs to include real-life implementation, as it allows participants to apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge. 

By engaging in real-world scenarios, leaders gain firsthand experience applying their knowledge.

This approach enhances understanding, boosts confidence, and provides immediate feedback and coaching.

Analysis

Tracking and measuring are essential for evaluating leadership development programs' effectiveness and identifying improvement areas. 

Key data points such as participation rates, goal progress, skill development, and engagement levels provide valuable insights into the program's impact and success.

However, relying solely on quantitative data may not give a complete picture. Gathering qualitative feedback directly from participants through surveys, polls, and conversations helps identify the most valuable aspects of the program and areas needing refinement.

Conducting reassessments at strategic intervals after participants reach milestones promotes long-term goal development and demonstrates the organization's ongoing commitment to employee growth and success.

What is a leadership development plan?

A leadership development plan is a specific employee development plan (EDP) type. It’s a roadmap for the growth and development of an organization's current and future leaders.

The plan should align with organizational goals and guide how leaders achieve their career goals. It should include current leaders and employees on track for a future leadership role.

Creating a leadership development plan should take time and consideration, involving the key stakeholders in the process. This collaboration helps define sought-after leadership traits and determines the most effective management styles within the organization.

To create a tailored plan, engage in conversations with employees who are candidates for leadership development. Ask about their vision for their career and how they see themself within the organization. Do your best to tailor the development plan accordingly, considering the overall path for the business and any corporate goals the company has.

One vital part of creating a leadership development plan is deciding what methods you'll use for the program. From mentorship programs and formal training sessions to task forces and special committees, there are many ways to guide and teach leaders and future leaders. Consider your company's existing resources and any additional resources that could make the program more comprehensive. 

Leadership development for long-term rewards

To thrive in a competitive environment, understanding your leader's strengths and areas for growth is crucial. A robust leadership development plan can engage and motivate employees, setting your company apart from competitors. 

Leadership development is a comprehensive process involving the assessment of competencies, targeted training, and continuous growth. 

One tool to enhance leadership skills is Pip Decks. These business recipe cards cover the essential skills of highly effective leaders. Pip Decks works for teams of every size, from startups to large organizations.

FAQs

Why develop a robust leadership development plan?

In any business, it's crucial to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Investing in leadership fosters team engagement and productivity and reduces turnover, reflecting a commitment to employee growth. 

Effective programs empower leaders to drive revenue growth and nurture future talent. They prepare businesses for the future by equipping leaders to navigate challenges and execute strategies aligned with organizational goals. 

Additionally, they close skill gaps and create a pipeline of capable leaders. With improved communication and efficiency, companies can excel in service delivery and adapt to market changes, ensuring sustained success in a competitive landscape.

What are the five phases of leadership development?

Leadership development is a continuous journey involving acquiring and refining skills, knowledge, and influence. 

As individuals progress through their careers, they may experience five distinct phases of leadership development, each characterized by increasing levels of responsibility, expertise, and impact on their organization.

  1. Informal leader—learns by supporting and helping others, demonstrating leadership potential without a formal title.
  2. Hands-on leader or direct contributor—actively participates in project execution, leading by example and demonstrating a strong work ethic.
  3. Expert leader—the expert leader, a subject matter expert, shapes solutions and provides guidance.
  4. Engaging and enabling leader—focuses on empowering and motivating teams, creating an environment that fosters engagement and innovation.
  5. Inspirational leader—possesses a clear vision, inspires others, and uses influence to drive positive change and align efforts with the company's mission.

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