Top Tips for Establishing an Internal Leadership Development Program

It should come as no surprise that leadership is a skill best learned through hands-on practice rather than through taught theory. There is a difference, after all, between talking about something and doing it, particularly when it comes to dealing with people, assessing and managing risk, and making major decisions. Learning these skills and applying them practically can prove to be difficult for those transitioning into leadership roles, or those taking on leadership roles at a new company. These difficulties is why implementing leadership development programs (LDPs) can be crucial to the success of a business, and why, when asked to rank their top three human-capital priorities, more than 500 executives included leadership development among them. 

Despite this, only 50% of executives surveyed by the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University said they offered any kind of internal training program for senior managers.

While companies in the U.S. spend around $14 billion annually on external leadership development programs, it’s clear that many companies are not offering an internal component of leadership training. While external leadership development programs can be useful, the investment in them rarely yields the type of long-term and specific goal training that most companies need and want. If you truly wish to foster strong leadership in your company —  and you likely do, when you consider how much of your company culture and success rides on your most senior employees — consider developing an internal leadership program, and read along for some tips for how to do it.

Why You Should Consider an Internal Leadership Program

Teach Skills That Apply Directly to Your Company

Unlike external leadership courses, which offer generalized instruction, internal LDPs can teach directly to a company’s business agenda, culture, and proprietary tech and knowledge. Participants can engage with situations and examples specific to their company, and get their feet wet with real projects that have real consequences. And since adults typically only retain about 10% of the information they learn in lectures, versus two-thirds when they learn hands-on, this real-world educational setting will lead to long-term learning and smarter, more experienced employees.

Foster Teamwork and Collaboration

An effective LDP will develop bonds and trust between participants, ensuring employees feel safe to take risks, speak their minds, and offer feedback; increasing professional confidence. Such an environment benefits the whole company, regardless of who moves up in leadership positions.

Avoid Employee Resentment and Resource Wastage

While bringing in new talent for management positions has its benefits, like injecting new ideas and fresh perspectives into a workplace, it also has its downsides, breeding resentment among employees who were brushed over for the position and spending time and energy acclimatizing the new hire to the job and company culture. A leadership development program can work to help internal hires move up in the chain and transition into new positions, and they can also work to train external hires on how the company works and how to meet expectations for the role.

Other benefits of implementing internal LDPs include decreased employee turnover and increased employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, and financial gains.

Establishing Your Own Leadership Development Program

Now that you understand the benefits of offering internal leadership training, the following tips should help ensure your program launches and runs smoothly and successfully.

Establish Specific Desired Outcomes

Not all leaders are created equally, and not every leadership style is appropriate to the goals of your company at any given time. If you’re looking to increase productivity and promote teamwork, someone skilled at managing and motivating people may be your best bet. If you need someone to lead the way in acquisition-led growth, someone with fresh ideas who’s willing to take risks may be in order instead. Regardless of what your specific needs are, identifying a few core capabilities your leaders should have will go a long way toward ensuring the success of the program and their future success as leaders in your company.

Recognize General Leadership Qualities

While you will need to identify specific roles to be filled — a task that will make the selection process far more efficient — there are some traits and skills that are universally applicable to leadership. The following list of characteristics, developed by personnel specialist Robert Pernick, Ph.D., outlines these core competencies:

  1. Desire: Wants to lead; wants to get things done through other people; wants to have an impact.

  2. Purpose. Has vision and goals; wants to achieve something, to accomplish things.

  3. Confidence: Believes she or he can make a difference but isn’t grandiose.

  4. Assertiveness. Is willing to assert self and to compete, without becoming unduly upset.

  5. Psychological fitness. Has insight and feels comfort with self; is empathic toward others and open to feedback.

  6. Centeredness. Has sufficient impulse control; stays focused under pressure.

  7. Energy. Has the physical stamina to do lots of things and to work long hours.

  8. General intelligence. Possesses average or slightly above-average general intelligence (e.g., logical, linguistic, mathematical, and spatial intelligence, relative to subordinates and sufficient for the occupation).

Measure Results

We use specific metrics to determine our progress when building a wide range of skills, such as strength in weight training, technique in music, or profits in sales, but more often than not, LDPs rate their success by participant satisfaction, which is an unreliable and highly subjective metric. Instead of measuring based on satisfaction, set targets and measure achievements to ensure your program is not only taken seriously, but provides the most value to your company. Targets can include things like revenue increase (measured between groups who took the training and those who did not), overall customer satisfaction, and productivity in the long-term. You can also measure participants’ career development following their training, considering how many were promoted to senior roles and how many left the company one to two years after the program.

Invest in Your Greatest Resource

Your employees are your greatest resource. An investment in them is an investment in your company, and one that will set you apart from the competition. Establish internal LDPs at your company to bridge the gap between human potential and company needs, and let everyone reap the rewards.

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