The Secrets to Successful Leadership Development Programs - Blue Ocean Brain
A cartoon of 3 business people floating down with parachutes.
A cartoon of 3 business people floating down with parachutes.

The Secrets to Successful Leadership Development Programs

News — 4 MIN

All organizations need strong leaders. While most people believe “leader” and “manager” are synonymous terms, the fact is companies need their managers to be good leaders—and they need to foster leadership skills in employees who aren’t in formal management positions. Colleagues need their peers to display initiative when confronting complex issues and moral fiber in the face of ethical dilemmas. And companies need to build their leadership pool for when their managers begin to retire or find new opportunities.

Unfortunately, many organizations are facing what business researchers are calling the “leadership gap”.

The Center for Creative Leadership surveyed leaders from 24 different organizations in 3 countries and found that the current leadership skills in those organizations are insufficient for their current and future needs. Furthermore, according to a 2015 study, a lack of leadership was identified as the number 3 challenge facing organizations. There are a lot of potential explanations for the leadership gap—retiring Baby Boomers, a work environment that is changing faster than organizations are adapting, or companies recruiting talented leaders away from each other.

This leadership gap is something that should concern all organizations. Without strong leaders who can provide vision for their teammates and colleagues, companies flounder. Employee satisfaction and retention decreases, productivity declines.

But regardless of what exactly is causing the gap, the important thing is that it’s fixable. Key qualities that make an effective leader are learnable, and every organization can foster leadership skills in employees by implementing well-structured training programs. But what makes a well-structured program?

Designing successful leadership development programs

A good place to start is to identify the skills that make a strong leader in your organization. There are universal aspects to leadership regardless of industry. For example, all strong leaders need to know how to give and receive feedback effectively, put the needs of the team ahead of the needs of the individual, address issues surrounding inclusiveness and diversity with sensitivity, communicate across generations and more.

But in addition to the basics, there are qualities that are needed to make a good leader in your business. Some companies have a large remote workforce and need leaders to organize and inspire folks virtually. Others have innately high turnover and need leaders to connect with and support new hires quickly. Your ideal leadership program will use a broad-based approach that touches on each of these attributes with consistent access to high-quality content.

And speaking of content, this is what makes or breaks a leadership development program. Choose content that directly maps to your identified skills gaps. As an example, maybe your team’s leaders are great at providing vision to employees, but they struggle making the distinction between “friend” and “supervisor.” A lesson designed to help them identify strategies to be collegial while maintaining professional boundaries might be just the ticket.

To inspire you as you build or refine your leadership development training, here are some examples popular Blue Ocean Brain microlearning lessons:

  • Using Situational Leadership
  • Spotting Strengths
  • From Buddy to Boss
  • Leadership Styles: When to Use them
  • Developing Your Leadership Agility
  • Understanding Your Feedback Style
  • Making Deliberate Decisions
  • How to Stop Demotivating Your Team
  • Productive Virtual Meetings
  • Growing the People Around You
  • Feedback Strategy: Situation, Behavior, Impact
  • The Grow Model: Coaching Success
  • Coaching, Not Criticizing

Tip: Include knowledge checks to monitor learner progress and mastery so you can take stock of what’s working and design follow up lessons to help them refresh their recollection and gain confidence in their new skills.

The role of microlearning in successful leadership development programs

The next step is to consider deliverability. Bottom line: even the highest quality content isn’t effective if it isn’t accessible.

Microlearning is extremely effective learning method for leadership development because it provides accessible and continuous education to your people in a way other methods cannot. In under 10 minutes, from a phone or laptop, a new leader can receive a lesson on preventing employee burnout or promoting critical thinking skills. The employee can immediately implement the ideas offered in the microlearning lesson and then get fresh new ideas the very next day. As your organization begins measuring what is improving and what is not, you can easily adjust lessons. Topics needing deeper learning can be reinforced with lessons on the same subject but tackled in another way. As your organizational needs and initiatives evolve, so can your microlearning content journeys.

Self-directed learning – an important skill for today’s leaders – is also a cornerstone of microlearning. Employees can go back to previous lessons on their own or dive in to new learning based on their individual upskill needs. In this way, a microlearning strategy is as dynamic as the people utilizing it and the people learning from it.

If your organization is among the 71% of those that say their leaders are not ready to lead their group into the future, consider the impact that a microlearning strategy could have on your teams.

Only 18% of organizations say that their current leaders are “very effective.”

The ROI of effective leadership development

As you focus a learning strategy on developing leadership skills in your employees, you will begin to see a secondary benefit: employee retention. By 2020, Millennials—people born between 1981 and 1996—will make up half of the U.S. workforce. Despite that fact, a recent white paper by the Human Resources Professional Associations suggests that 63% of Millennials feel that their leadership skills are not being developed at their current position and 71% plan to leave their job within two years to find leadership development elsewhere. In fact, a 2017 study from the Fosway Group suggests that learning new skills is the number one reason why people choose to take a new job—or move on to the next one.

The leadership gap is a problem for the entire modern market, but it is particularly salient when we look at women. While women hold almost 52 percent of professional-level jobs in America, they make up just under 15% of executive officers, according to the Center for American Progress. The issue is even more pronounced among professional women of color.

If your company makes the smart choice to invest in emerging leaders now, particularly women and people of color, you won’t be one of the companies losing employees as they seek out better opportunities for leadership development.