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Best Practices of Leadership Development


Best Practices of Leadership Development

 Author: Nancy Zentis, Ph.D., CEO, Institute of Organization Development

Leadership development practices are a key concern for most organizations.   According to a recent study conducted in 2015 by Deloitte and Global Human Capital Trends, most programs fall short in achieving leadership goals.  Only 18% of those responding to the study indicated that leadership development programs were identifying high potentials and developing successors.

Josh Bersin, of Bersin by Deloitte, explains the importance of linking leadership development to long term business goals.  It is also important for senior leaders to commit to a long term investment in leadership development.  Organizations need to change their leadership development practices from focusing on training and competencies, and instead focus on developing leaders who will impact the culture, business goals, and development of others.

To create a successful leadership development program, several factors must be considered:

  • What is your organization culture, industry, size, and growth?
  • Where is your organization headed? What is your competitive advantage? What are the potentials risks or dangers in the environment?
  • What are your leaders key areas of responsibility and how do they impact the bottom line?
  • What talent or expertise does your leadership team have over your competition?
  • What skills, expertise or talent is missing?
  • What criteria is used to select new leaders and promote internal leaders?
  • How are leaders onboarded and coached to achieve goals?
  • How do you measure leadership performance?
  • What are your future leadership development needs?
  • What metrics are in place to measure leadership development outcomes?
  • What leadership development methods do you currently have – Training, coaching, job related? How will the 70:20:10 model be implemented in your future leadership development program?
  • How are leaders reinforced, rewarded, and measured? How can you show that you’re on the right track?
  • When will follow-up occur, and who is responsible for that?
  • What would happen if leadership development didn’t happen?

These questions will help to identify your needs and determine a strategy for creating your own leadership development program. Creating your strategy is a key part of building a talent pipeline for leadership development and preparing your organization for future challenges.


Leadership Development Best Practices:

After you’ve collected data and identified leadership development needs, you may want to consider the leadership development best practices listed below:

  1. Leadership talent, as a component of human capital, is evaluated as a major competitive advantage.
  1. All organizations – small, medium or large – have the ability to develop and implement talent management initiatives that are aligned with their organizational culture and linked to their business goals and objectives.
  1. Business executives recognize that success is largely dependent on their ability to identify, develop and retain leaders within their organizations.
  1. Retaining top talent, critical skill sets, as well as up-and-coming potential is vital to the success of every company.
  1. Unleashing leadership potential in all employees is at the forefront of distinguishing high-quality organizations that are continuously employing best practices around their talent management initiatives and setting them apart from their competition.
  1. The best leadership development systems are anchored in—and driven by—business strategy. 70% of respondent companies linked leadership development efforts to business strategy.
  1. Aligning leadership behaviors to strategy creates a core purpose for leadership development endeavors.
  1. Executive management sponsorship and visibility are critical success factors for effective leadership development.
  1. Involving senior leaders in action learning applications, experiential learning or action learning is another tool frequently cited as most effective in developing leaders.
  1. Real-time practices emphasizing specialized and customized learning interventions targeted to individual leader development needs; Real-life practices with emphasis on experiential and action learning practices linking leader development to actual business challenges.
  1. Competency models for leaders are becoming more focused, with fewer competencies, and are more easily prioritized to fit the changing needs of the business.
  1. Leader development, as a discipline, is increasingly becoming interwoven and aligned with other talent management systems, particularly succession planning and performance management. The more readily leader development can be aligned and integrated with other talent management tools, the stronger the capability for business growth.
  1. Conduct a thorough review of the business to identify current leadership competencies and the gaps.
  1. Leadership cannot be taught; programs must be based around practice and practicing; not theory.
  1. Initiatives should provide a return on investment and this must be measured. Assess leader development outcomes and connect leader development to bottom line business outcomes.
  1. Leadership initiatives should: Utilize quality, qualified specialists; Actively involve senior leaders; Solicit, listen to and act on participant feedback.
  1. Initiatives must be flexible and versatile to meet ‘just-in-time’ needs of leaders.
  1. Leadership initiatives should be fully integrated with and aligned to other key business strategies.
  1. Identify the specific development needs of leaders on an individual basis, they are likely to differ.
  1. When using external providers: The internal specialists must be actively involved throughout the process. Always pilot any initiative before launching. All initiatives must have an inbuilt communications plan.
  1. Participants must be able to practice what they are learning.
  1. Initiatives must reward those who do well and demonstrate the desired outcomes.
  1. Initiatives must embrace available modern technologies for the learning advantages they offer and cost reductions they can deliver.
  1. Initiatives must incorporate strong ethical and social principles and values of global awareness, CSR, citizenship and sustainability.
  1. Allocate sufficient funds to do development well. Incorporate leadership development as part of the organization’s strategic plan.
  1. Define leadership competencies needed for future business growth. Derive these from a review of your business goals.
  1. Determine leaders’ skills gaps. Use of a 360-feedback instrument is recommended to determine where individual leaders, and groups of leaders, may have development opportunities in one or more of your critical competencies.
  1. Define each of your leader audiences. In our model, we define six audiences (emerging leaders, front-line leaders, mid-level leaders, senior leaders, executives, and high potentials) but you may have a different number.
  1. Design a blended development solution. Place leaders in intense “let me experience it” type assignments (70:20 part of the equation) with precisely described development challenges.
  1. Implement signature development programs for each leader level. Ensure that each program is threaded and linked to the program preceding it and following it for continuous and progressive leader development in each of the critical competencies.
  1. Create individual leader development plans. Link personal objectives to one or more of your business-driven leadership competencies (rather than to generic competency models).
  1. Re-evaluate development opportunities regularly. Look for possible changes needed in design, or even retirement of the opportunity, to stay aligned with leaders’ goals and business goals.
  1. Hold regular, open dialogues between participating leaders and their managers to monitor development progress and leader engagement.
  1. Define metrics for success upfront. Before designing and implementing any development opportunity, HR business partners should dialogue with business unit leaders to determine what leader behavior success looks like to ensure development opportunities are aligned.

The Institute of Organization Development offers state of the art online Leadership Development Certification Programs to help participants create effective leadership development strategies to grow and develop leaders while advancing their own career as a Leadership Development Certified Professional (LDCP).  This program provides participants with the tools and skills needed to guide senior leaders to design and implement a best practice Leadership Development Program.   After completing the program, you will gain a certification as a Leadership Development Certified Professional and earn the distinction of LDCP.

The Leadership Development Certification Program is offered online over 8 months, meeting 3 hours per month.  Each session is facilitated live, through Go-to-training.  Our expert faculty provides interactive discussions, examples, tools, guidelines, and resources to enrich your learning.


This certification program provided me with the resources and tools I needed to implement an effective Leadership Development Strategy when working with executives during a coaching engagement.


The practical experience I learned during this program gave me the confidence to work with executives to create an aligned Leadership Development Strategy.

Dr. Nancy Zentis is the CEO of Institute of OD, offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and OD Advanced Skills courses for ongoing learning.  She can be reached at info@instituteod.com.  For more information about our certification programs and short courses, visit our website www.instituteod.com.


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