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Creating a Leadership Development Plan in 4 Steps

By John Wright on December 1, 2016

Companies of all sizes require great leadership to truly thrive. However, even well-established organizations with a long history of success can find themselves with a leadership problem or an ineffective leadership development plan. Perhaps the leadership pipeline has been ignored; a poor leader stayed in the same position for too long, or the leadership training program has been neglected.

Whatever the reason, if you realize that your organization has a leadership problem, revamping your leadership development plan might be just what your organization needs to get back on track. To help get you started, here are four steps to creating a leadership development plan that supports the success of your leaders and your organization. 


Step 1: Start at the Top

A leadership development plan will only work if supporters of the initiative walk the walk and talk the talk. In other words, they must be role models because, at the end of the day, even the best plan will yield poor results if managers are not receptive and supportive. The quickest way to hinder buy-in is by not involving or requiring those at the top to participate. Your executives must be role models because they will be shaping your future leaders, so the plan must start with them.

Therefore, if you are to create or redesign a leadership development plan that is truly effective, start by gathering organization leadership to get alignment and agreement on the goals and best path forward. This is the time to define the existing leadership problem and commit to making a unified effort to solve it.  

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Step 2: Define the Vision

A leadership development plan starts with a vision that will help you determine the necessary actions to take. By its very nature, a vision tends to encompass great dreams and hopes. This is good because of its motivating force, but also intrinsically dangerous as it provides little in the way of step-by-step direction, so it’s important not to stop at this step in the process.

Define the vision of your leadership development plan. This will be unique to your organization but could include concepts such as building a robust leadership pipeline, ensuring that every leader is proficient in certain key areas, or initiating a transition to new leadership. Think big and aim high -- your vision for leadership has a long-term impact on the organization.


Step 3: Determine the Personal, Practical, or Organizational Impact

Setting goals and objectives will help you translate the vision into reality. Leaders play a critical role at the personal, practical, and organizational levels. Determining the level at which you want to develop better leadership skills will provide clarity and allow you to set realistic and achievable objectives. Here’s an explanation of the type of leadership development that occurs at each level:

  • Emerging Leaders: To successfully lead others, an individual must first lead themselves. At this level, the development plan should focus on teamwork, dealing with conflict, time management, reducing stress, personal accountability, and other skills that are critical to personal leadership.
  • Mid-Level Leaders: At this level, development focuses on the role of a team leader, how to communicate with the team, identifying and resolving performance gaps, and creating a culture of accountability. Typically practical leadership applies to frontline and mid-level managers and supervisors.
  • Senior Leaders: This type of leadership development broadens the mindset and capacity for delivering organizational results. This means that leaders develop skills that engage stakeholders, empowers others how to lead, transition the organization through change, and many other skills that help overall company objectives.

Determine what level of leadership development is needed for specific individuals, so you can build a plan that addresses the specific skills required. Your leadership development plan will probably span multiple levels of leadership, especially as individuals move through the leadership pipeline.


Step 4: Set Up Your Leadership Development Plan for Success

Just as a pilot must complete a full checklist of tests and measures before hitting the runway, your leadership development plan shouldn’t be rolled out without full preparation for takeoff. Having a plan in place with milestones and timelines will help keep you on track. Remember that leadership development is never finished, so this should be a living document that is continually updated and improved as the organization matures. Always create a roadmap that includes a strategy for communicating the leadership development plan, relevant training programs, benchmarks for measuring success, and a process for ongoing leadership development.

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Since 1991, John has acquired extensive experience in the design and delivery of a diverse portfolio of programs. In addition to his executive responsibilities as President of Leadership and Learning Events, John is considered a valued partner to many executive teams. His insight and experience enable him to effectively diagnose, design, and implement complex culture change initiatives in a collaborative and engaging manner. Moreover, John’s experience in global implementations allows him to draw from a deep well of history to create unique and customized solutions. John’s passion for developing people makes him a sought after speaker, partner and coach and is evident in the high praise he receives from clients.

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