Leadership development

How to create a leadership development plan

9 steps to developing a leadership development plan that sets your organization up for long-term success.

Meryl D’Sa-Wilson

Published on 

April 13, 2023

Updated on 

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While many come into jobs with prior knowledge and training, the modern workforce expects continuous education as the norm in their work environment. After all, technology, trends, and best practices evolve, and so should we. 

For many in the workforce, an opportunity to expand their skills, knowledge, and expertise directly impacts their chances of being promoted to leadership positions. In fact, the World Economic Forum projects “leadership and social influence to be among the fastest-growing workplace skills through 2022.”

The continuous evolution and success of any organization are linked to the continuous growth and evolution of its leadership. Creating a solid leadership development plan helps outline detailed steps to identify and nurture the next generation of leaders within your organization.

That’s where leadership development plans come into focus. Such a plan can help your employees achieve:

  • Greater overall career satisfaction,
  • More interesting opportunities and challenges, and
  • Enhanced impactful career.

In this article, we’ll unpack how you can put together a leadership development action plan that prepares your future leaders.

What is a leadership development plan?

A leadership development plan is a strategic plan and useful tool that focuses on building and developing employees who show leadership potential. Using such a tool ensures that your organization has a strong pipeline of future leaders.

Typically, a leadership development plan will identify and prepare high-potential employees for management and leadership roles within the organization. This plan is usually structured, outlining key objectives, goals, activities, strategies, and so on.

Why should you create a leadership development plan?

Now, this leadership development may occur naturally in some businesses. You see an employee with potential, you train them, and then promote them to positions where they continue learning on the job. 

However, a more intentional and structured approach alongside mentorship, coaching, and learning and development will gain better results.

With a leadership development plan in place, you can secure your organization in times of crises, competitive markets, and work-related trends such as the Great Resignation. When you take time to comfortably develop your employees, you increase their chances of succeeding in these leadership roles. 

By learning and growing in their positions, employees will find value and purpose in their roles. So, such a plan has the potential to retain your most valuable employees and dissuade them from seeking employment elsewhere. 

This shows how critical leadership development plans are to business continuity, employee retention, and employee engagement.

9 Steps to creating an effective leadership development plan

Creating a leadership action plan can be overwhelming since there are many different factors to consider. However, it is important to know that every process benefits from an occasional update to ensure it serves the needs of those it caters to.

So, how do you get started, and what do you include in your leadership development strategy?

Here are the 9 key steps to take to create a leadership development plan.

1. Consider business needs and goals 

Start by determining what your organization needs from leadership. Consider the following:

  • How many leaders do you need? 
  • What departments or teams can benefit from new managerial roles? 
  • What skills do you want new leaders to have? 
  • Do you need traditional or organizational leaders?
  • What leadership strategies and techniques can benefit your teams? 
  • What gaps do you want to fill and what issues do you want to resolve through leadership development?
  • Do you want to increase representation and diversity in leadership?

It may also help to sit down with your employees and management to get their perspectives as well. What would they like to see from leaders and what have they been missing out on?

Once you understand what you need from leadership, you can design your action plan accordingly.

2. Establish objectives and goals

Use the information you collect to determine key objectives and goals of your leadership development action plan. Make sure that your leadership development goals align with overall business goals. This will set expectations and show employees and management how this program will assist in overall growth and development, and that is key to investing in your plan. This is a good time to think of KPIs and success metrics so that when the time comes, you can evaluate the success of your plan.

3. Plan how to identify employees

Next, plan how your teams will identify high-potential employees who will participate in this leadership development. For example, managers could use the annual performance reviews to identify employees who take on new initiatives or show an interest in leadership. Or, you could integrate leadership development from the very beginning—upon hiring. This will put all your new hires into a development path, preparing them to take on higher roles when the time is right.

4. Consider different types of training and development

Now, since there are a few different ways to learn and grow, you’ll need to decide what your leadership development action plan will offer. Consider the following strategies for leadership development:

Internal leadership development (more hands-on):

External, third-party leadership development (more hands-off):

  • External educational courses, certifications, and classes
  • Networking events
  • Seminars and workshops, etc.

Determine what will work best in your organization, given your setup, resources, and capabilities.

5. Set a timeline with measurable actions

As you put the above things in place, you’ll start getting a picture of how long this is going to take. This is a good moment to figure out a timeline that supports your leadership development goals. Keep in mind that everyone learns at different speeds, so try and make your timeline reasonable and measurable. 

For example, include short-term milestones to highlight achievements such as completing a certified course or project. Think of this as setting a schedule for employees and management to follow and track their progress.

Alternatively, you may encourage candidates to set their own goals. Harvard Business School Professor, Ethan Bernstein teaches the PACE model for goal setting:

  • P – pick a leadership goal
  • A – apprise others/team members of the goal
  • C – collect specific ideas on how to improve
  • E – elicit feedback
Source: https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/leadership-development-plan 

With this approach, candidates chart their own development course, approved and supported by their peers and managers.

6. Set up a mentorship program

It also helps to run a mentoring program as part of your leadership development strategy. As part of the mentorship registration process, you can get insights into each mentees’ career development goals. 

Then, you can pair these high-potential employees with seasoned managers so they can get first-hand training. Mentoring relationships are often a safe space to ask questions, solve problems, brainstorm solutions, and learn at a deeper level. By participating in mentorship, employees can evaluate and re-evaluate their progress, identify their strengths, and work on their weaknesses.

7. Identify resources

You may also want to identify other resources that employees can use when in a pinch. This could be a knowledge base of content related to their field, online or offline library memberships, employee resources groups (ERGs) for their specific community, and so on. These resources must be geared towards supporting employees in their endeavors.

8. Check in with progress

Once your leadership development plan and program are in action, take time to check in on people involved: employees, managers, mentors, third-party vendors, etc. It is crucial to check on the progress of development and how employees are achieving their set milestones. You may even collect feedback that can be used to improve your leadership action plan.

9. Measure success & adjust as necessary

Finally, measure your plan’s success. This could be the number of milestones employees complete, evaluation their managers present, or percent of new leaders your organization attains. But without measuring success, you may not know how your plan is doing and whether the time and money spent are worth it. And as you find issues, inconsistencies, or missed opportunities, work on improving the process. 

P.S. You can consider the above step-by-step guide as a leadership development template that you can repurpose for your needs.

Bottom line

Having a solid leadership development plan in place can directly impact the continuous evolution and growth of your organization. It helps you identify how to build strong leaders and outlines the different ways to engage and retain skilled talent.

And this is what a mentorship program does as well. By working closely with employees, it helps mentors and management identify high-potential employees and provides them with great opportunities for development and training. 

Considering including mentorship in your leadership development action plan? Learn more about Together’s mentorship platform.

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