Building Great Leaders

How to Create a Leadership Development Plan

Creating a leadership development plan is the first step in creating a team-first culture and getting the most out of your high-potential employees. Not only does it give your organization a chance to define your goals and put focus on them, but it gives the gift of radical transparency to your high performers. It’s all about seeing the bigger picture when it comes to leadership training

A leadership development plan is simply a loose roadmap that fills in the gaps between where your employees are and where you want them to be. 

It helps you see where you excel and identifies areas in which you could improve. And, perhaps most importantly, your leadership development plan helps you identify key players in your organization’s future success and shows that you’re willing to invest the time and energy into turning those high performers and core employees into true leaders. 

Why Create a Leadership Development Plan?

Sometimes, a typical hiring and training cycle can feel like being in a boat that has sprung a leak in the middle of a storm. You see the gap in the structure, and you rush to fill it only to find that another has opened up. Trying to quickly fill gaps with new hires might work, but it can often backfire, filling complicated positions with individuals that lack the necessary leadership skills. 

Leadership development is taking the time to repair the boat from within before encountering stormy seas. As we all take a collective breath from the change of the last two years, it’s a perfect time to stop, assess, and check in with your core employees. 

Rather than constantly hiring to fill a gap, leadership development preps your current employees to take on new roles and gives them the skills they need to excel. 

In a 2021 Gartner report, 59 percent of HR pros said building critical skills and competencies was one of their top training priorities for 2022. Forty-two percent said their current and future leadership bench was at the top of their lists for objectives. Leadership development plans combine these two concerns by prepping the next wave of employees to learn new skills and get ready to lead. 

Still not convinced? Here are some other compelling arguments to make sure you have a leadership development plan in place for your organization:

  • Increase Employee Motivation and Retention. Recognition is one of the most effective ways to drive motivation, and what better way to recognize your employees for a job well done than by investing in their future with your organization? Your leadership development plan says that you see the work and potential of your key players and want them to succeed with your company.  As a result, you engender loyalty and keep your best talent in house. 
  • Add Diversity. A leadership development plan gives you the chance to identify core employees and leadership potential regardless of department, race, gender, or economic factors. A stagnant leadership pool can be positively disrupted when your organization thinks outside the C-suite and invests in leaders from a variety of backgrounds. The result? A more diverse and inclusive team with a wider spectrum of viewpoints and competencies. 
  • Fill Gaps and Plan Ahead. Instead of hiring to fill gaps, your leadership development plan allows you to plan ahead and condition current employees for new roles. After all, the best hire is the one that builds on existing knowledge and training. Utilize your employees more effectively and you won’t be left to scramble for a new hire when things get rocky. 
  • Set Clear, Attainable Leadership Goals. We’d all love for every one of our hires to be superstars, but the fact is that some aren’t. Still, you can push your employees’ potential by setting clear and attainable leadership goals to give your team more clarity and focus. Your employees aren’t mind readers; use your leadership development plan as a chance to be open about their roles and the future of your organization. 
  • Accelerate Professional Growth. No employee wants to feel like they’re at a dead-end in their job. Creating a leadership development curriculum as part of your learning and development strategy accelerates professional growth and allows your team members to see exactly what they need to do to unlock the next level of their potential. 
  • Navigate Change Better. If there’s anything we learned in 2020 and 2021, it was that change happens fast. Whether it was pivoting to a virtual workplace, restructuring departments, or taking on new roles, investing in a leadership development plan fills your organization with individuals who know how to continually guide their teams and lead the way, no matter how drastic the change. An organization filled with trained and motivated leaders has the edge over those that catch and keep employees in their current roles. 

How to Create a Leadership Development Plan

It’s clear that your organization needs a leadership development plan, but that’s only the first step in designing one that makes sense for your company’s goals. Here’s an outline of some of the questions to ask your team to tailor to plan for your employees and objectives. 

1. Get the Buy-In

You’re on board with the importance of leadership development and succession, but you’ll still need to get buy-in from your key players: the C-suite and your core employees. An overview of the benefits from both the executive and employee lens helps create a stronger case for the development plan. Capture the hearts and minds of your subjects before you proceed to ensure that the spirit of leadership remains a priority throughout the process. 

2. Identify Key Players

Not everyone is going to have the drive, goals, and natural skills to be a leader, but we can almost guarantee there is untapped potential on your current team. 

Not sure who you want to invest in? Consider this: If you plotted your an employee on a graph with “potential” on the x-axis and “performance” on the y-axis, who would be in the upper-right corner? That sweet spot of high potential and high performance is likely where you’ll find your best candidates for your leadership development. 

3. Outline Your Goals and Objectives 

What do you want your leadership development plan to achieve? What are your organization’s current goals, and what change do you hope to see in the future? Ask yourself these questions as you define what you want in the next 30, 60, and 90 days or even over the course of your goals. Doing so will make your next step much clearer. 

4. Mind the Gaps 

Once you’ve outlined your organization’s goals, get honest and start identifying the gaps that stop you from achieving them. No one wants to admit to potential issues, but if you know exactly what you’re facing, your leadership development curriculum can address them before they become long-term problems. Whether it’s a lack of training, no leadership succession, or

targeting the wrong employees in the past, you can overcome leadership training gaps once you know what has stopped you before. 

5. Design Your Plan

Here are the basics: 

  • Write down your team objectives and the potential leader you’ve identified as a match for the program. 
  • Then, create a table with sections for the goal, the method, and the measurement. 
  • As a team, decide what type of programming will work best for each goal, but don’t forget to build in some metrics. 

The tangible benefits from the program help you tweak your approach, keep what’s working, and ditch what doesn’t. 

6. Measure and Assess

How do you know if your leadership development curriculum is working? Measurement and assessment should be an ongoing part of the plan. Build your action plan with an end in mind. It’s not enough to just hope it results in employees that are ready to lead; you’ll need to measure their readiness with metrics like improved results, better sales, and even employee surveys. Of course, your ultimate measurement will happen when a newly-trained employee is asked to step up and take the lead. 

Looking for leaders? Look within. Nurturing and investing in the employees you already have shows them you see their potential and are willing to put in the work to create a more capable workforce. While you can’t always ask for smooth sailing when managing your team, you can create a more skilled and capable crew. 

Your leadership development action plan is a way to navigate your next steps while you weather the storms of change and growth.