Leadership Development, The Umbrella of Protection for the Strategic Plan

leadership umbrella


Leadership Development is the Umbrella of Protection for the Strategic Plan, that may sound like an unusual topic for an article, especially when the first departments to be downsized with company realignment is leadership development and organizational development.  

Let’s compare your strategic plan to the heart of a person.  It is the heart, your plan for success, and every department in your organization plays a part in making that happen.  When you think of the heart then, look at everything that links to your strategic plan, as being an artery. And we know that you can’t afford to have any clogged arteries.  My focus for this article, is to point out just how important a strategic approach to leadership development is to the success of your Strategic Plan. 

This article will address the following areas:

  • Think Strategically When Developing Your Leaders
  • Why Leadership Development Needs to Change
  • A Strategic Approach to Leadership Development
  • Two Types of Leadership Development, Horizontal and Vertical

Think Strategically When Developing Your Leaders

Start to think strategically when you look at your leadership development initiatives.  Every function within an organization makes things happen on the strategic plan.  This includes recruiting, talent management, onboarding, skill building, succession planning and developing high potentials.  Anything that gives you the competitive advantage, is linked to developing your leaders.  With this list to start with, you can see that leadership development does impact the bottom line.

But the leadership development programs of ten years ago are not adequate to prepare the leader of today to meet the challenges and changes necessary to be effective in this new work environment.  

Let’s take a brief survey to determine if your leadership development programs need to be reengineered.   Using a 5-point Likert Scale, where 5 is a very effective program, and 1 is no program at all.  To support ratings of 4 and 5, provide a brief statement justifying your response.  This is a great look in the mirror to evaluate your leadership development programs. 

To learn more about a strategic approach to Leadership Development and how to prepare your leaders for the challenges they will face in the new world of business, sign up for our  Leadership Development Certification Program, www.instituteod.com

Now that you have taken the survey, let’s look at why leadership development programs of 10 years ago may not be adequate to prepare the leader for today’s challenges, and your leadership development programs may need to be changed.

Why Leadership Development Needs to Change

The last three years have been very challenging.  Leaders on a daily basis share that they are tired and, in some cases, burned out.  Dealing with the COVID Virus, leaders have learned to operate in an ever changing disruptive environment. 

Organizations are experiencing a new normal with more employees working from home.  With the amount of complexity in today’s world, all leaders have to keep expanding and growing and if they want to keep up moving forward.  It is imperative that they develop knowledge, skills and challenge their mindset.

The leader of today needs to be prepared to work in a volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous environment.  What was once called change management is now leadership.  This means being able to work with all age groups, all levels of diversity and inclusion, comfortable with technology and be able to work across boundaries.   

From the survey you may have determined that you need to redefine and realign your leadership development programs to meet the challenges of today. What happens if you do nothing regarding developing your leaders.

A recent, 2023 global leadership Forecast conducted by Development Dimensions International, surveying over 13 thousand Leaders around the world, stated that the five critical skills leaders need for the future are; identifying and developing future talent, strategic thinking, managing successful change decision making prioritization and influencing others.  The report went on to say that few leaders are getting the development they need to meet key challenges. 

You can see from this DDI report that leaders feel less effective at handling change, and too many leaders have never received any training or preparation for their role.  No wonder the first-time leader is frustrated, anxious and uncertain in their current role.

We need to build a better future for our leaders, this includes preparing them to deal with critical leadership moments they face each day.  This will require a plan in place for building long-term careers and capabilities of our leaders to ensure a steady pipeline of leaders for the future.

We need to invest in the next generation of leaders, one and done events that are not measured or sustainable, limited leadership pipeline, compressing learning to save time and leaving the individual to select their own learning options, is not the solution.

So, what are you doing to prepare your leaders to engage their teams and stakeholders to meet the challenges ahead.  There is an increasing demand for leaders’ soft skills to provide effective coaching, inclusion, diversity, employee wellbeing, motivation and communication skills that deliver business results.  Yes, we still need leaders to be technically proficient, but they also need managerial skills.  The solution is a strategic approach to leadership development. 

A Strategic Approach to Leadership Development

Leadership development is more than throwing some PowerPoint slides together and doing a presentation.  But that is the impression for some companies, and that is why the leadership development and organizational development departments don’t have a seat at the table, and are not viewed as impacting the bottom line.  So, what is a strategic approach to leadership development?  It starts assessing and identifying leadership needs that lead to the success of the organization, not just nice to have programs.  Leadership development programs need to be sustainable, not just attend and done.

Before you develop any leadership development program, reach out to the eyes and ears of the people that will determine the success of your program and assess what they need, the driver, and build your objectives and deliverables around that need.  This includes Human Resources, Leaders, Customers, and Stakeholders. 

Ask yourself the question, what do the 360 assessments, exit interviews and HRS Data tell you about the need?  Start a communication process where your stakeholders are aware that you are developing a leadership initiative/program, and keep them informed through each stage of development, this will help you develop a more sustainable program.   

But it must be a program designed around meaningful leadership experiences using a variety of learning methods tied to performance.  Leadership development programs need to address self-development, advancement to a new role, and preparing leaders for specific business challenges?  We make a huge mistake and a disservice to a leader when we promote them into a position of managing people, without preparing them with management skills. This happens too often where we promote based on technical skills.

Leadership development programs need to prepare the leader to respect all age groups, levels of diversity, inclusion, comfortable with technology and working across boundaries.  A strategic approach to leadership development starts with determining the business need, and developing a strategy with objectives that meet or exceed those needs.

Two Types of Leadership Development, Horizontal and Vertical

Horizontal Leadership Development Defined

There are two types of leadership development, horizontal and vertical.

Horizontal leadership development refers to adding more knowledge, skills and competencies.  We expand our toolkit, gain more skills, expand our knowledge and become more competent.  Such training could include, but is not be limited to communications training, dealing with conflict, strategic planning and others.  We usually measure horizontal development through 360-degree leadership assessments. We in the Leadership and Development arena have been using this approach for over 40 years.  Don’t take me wrong, we still need horizontal leadership development, but it is not enough to survive in this everchanging environment. In order to move us forward and be more effective, we need to include Vertical Leadership Development with Horizontal Leadership Development.

Vertical Leadership Development Defined

Vertical Development is about expanding the mindset – advancing the way a person thinks and behaves.  Vertical development looks at professional maturity, emotional intelligence, and cognitive framework. It focuses on building the ability to think in more complex, systematic, strategic, and interdependent way.  The mindset refers to the mental models we engage when thinking, as our sense of identity.  Vertical development isn’t about training a leader in skills and increasing their knowledge; it’s about transforming the ways a leader thinks, which will impact what they do and how they behave.  Vertical development challenges a leader to make changes in the way they are, and then raises their self-awareness to engage in a higher level of personalized change.  Vertical development is about becoming more adaptable, more self-aware, more collaborative and able to span boundaries and networks to have a major impact on the organization and its effectiveness. 

Vertical development does not replace horizontal development. Both are equally important. In the past, however, too much attention has been paid to adding skills and methodologies, and not enough to changing the mindsets and perspectives of high-potential leaders.  By focusing on horizontal and vertical development, companies can develop leaders who have the wisdom to choose the right strategies as well as the skills and experience to implement them.  

In summary

Leadership Development is the Umbrella of Protection for the Strategic Plan.  It is a plan that prevents any clogged arteries going to the heart (your organizational goals).  But to be a successful, sustainable leadership development program, it must be strategically designed, and prepare the leader of today to meet the challenges and changes necessary to be effective in this new work environment.  This includes horizontal development with increased knowledge and skills, coupled with vertical development to advance the leaders thinking, exam behaviors, challenge mindset, and apply emotional intelligence. 

We have faced many challenges in the last three years, and it is essential that we prepare our leaders of today and tomorrow to think in more complex, systematic, strategic and interdependent ways.  This will require a strategic approach to leadership development to be the driving force that makes this happen.

About the Author

Gene Wheeler is a Consultant, Educator, Public Speaker, Executive Coach, and Facilitator for Executive Coaching for the Institute of Organization Development.  He has been an adult educator and Human Resource Consultant for over 30 years, helping individuals, teams and organizations grow and strengthen human capital through recruiting, 360° and psychometric assessments, competency-based leadership development training programs, talent management, and executive coaching. He was also the director of the Air Force Leadership School, an on-campus, college accredited program for high potentials.

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