Article: Leadership development initiatives that give returns

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Leadership development initiatives that give returns

For long-term performance, the C-Suite needs to commit themselves to the success of corporate leadership-development efforts. But do these programs align with the strategic objectives of the business? Do they prove valuable to the employee and for the bottom line?
Leadership development initiatives that give returns

Leadership is the process of influencing leaders and followers to achieve organizational objectives through change.”1

According to a Fortune survey, only 7 percent of CEOs believe their companies are building effective global leaders, and just 10 percent said that their leadership-development initiatives have a clear business impact. A McKinsey’s research report reveals that only 11 percent of more than 500 executives around the globe strongly agreed with the statement that their leadership-development interventions achieve and sustain the desired results. 

But for long-term performance, the C-Suite needs to commit themselves to the success of corporate leadership-development efforts now. A few of the elements that can be considered for successful leadership development initiatives are:


Many learning and development initiatives falter because their design fails to answer the most important questions: What business need is this initiative going to address and the business outcome that the organization is seeking through it? Once the core strategic need is identified by the organization, learning and development initiatives can be geared towards solving those challenges. Organizations need to define the gaps in leadership and the future leadership needs required by the organization along with the key competencies or skills that the organization would require to achieve organizational goals while aligning the long and short-term strategic goals of the organization.

Leadership development needs to be embossed in the culture of the organization, and efforts need to be made that align the leadership development initiatives (content and outcomes) with the strategy of the organization and should reflect the leadership competencies required by the organization.

Organizations need to design leadership development frameworks and initiatives that enable employees to envision opportunities beyond their own contexts, and to help them achieve excellence through collaboration, personalization and prioritization, and by designing efforts that eliminate conflicting ideas, and focus on what really matters. 

Making it experiential

The most effective developmental tool through which leadership competencies can be developed is real-life situations. Designing and imbibing self-directed experiences that mirror organizational goals and context is the most powerful tool to develop competencies. This can be achieved by business simulations or creating hypothetical situations from real events within the organization. Another way in which this can be carried out is by exposing the participants to real-world situations that they may not have experienced before. The key point here is to enable the participants to experience and not just visualize. Such simulations or reproduction of real situations can act as strong catalysts for leadership development and change. The aim of experiential leadership training is to provide an experience to the participants that will enable them to learn about a leadership principle by ‘doing’ and by practicing a leadership skill. The idea is to put leaders in real-life situations where they can use the knowledge and cultivate leaders who can manage the unprecedented situation with ease.


It is a well-known fact that leaders cannot be created but they can be developed and nurtured. Leadership is learned fundamentally by “doing” and coaching plays a crucial role in this as it enables participants to gain perspective and sustain throughout the process of leadership development. Coaching enables the identification of instances where leaders prove themselves as leaders, and comprehend different perspectives and points of view of how actions are perceived.

Coaching also builds behavioral competencies that drive bottom-line business results, including cost reduction and overall profitability; it is known to improve job satisfaction, engagement, and working relationships. 

Leveraging Technology

In the digital age, technology has changed the game of how organizations operate in the business ecosystem. Along with this, the way workforce preferences have changed in the past has also forced organizations to alter the ways in which they design their developmental programs. Technology has enabled the reach of learning at the workplace with on-the-go learning that enables anytime anywhere accessibility of learning content. Mobile learning apps, MOOCs, freeware content, videos, podcasts and other online toolkits, all help in collaboration, and allow for tracking and sharing progress of those on the leadership development journeys. Technology-enabled learning has not only decreased the cost of learning investments compared to the traditional methods, it has also increased learner satisfaction and business outcomes. Online platforms also allow customization and personalization of learning content while they simultaneously reinforce the development investment. 

Evaluating program impact

Determining the Return on Investment of a leadership program can be a challenging task as the tangible outcomes of such developmental programs like collaboration, decision making, and the ability to think strategically can be difficult to measure. Assessing the transfer of learning can only happen when participants apply their learning to their work. Thus, it is important to understand that leadership development initiatives can be measured through first analyzing quality, effectiveness and job impact through cognitive assessments, simulations for testing or grading on knowledge gained; 360° feedback that presents a picture as to how behaviors have evolved and the application of new skills on the job that impact the company’s bottom line; and identifying the tangible indicators such as turnover costs or economic benefits of increased customer satisfaction. 

From planning and building leadership programs that offer its participants to transfer their most powerful off-site experiences into onsite behaviors, codify the mindset, intentions, and behaviors for generating the outcome desired in the organizational setting while learning in the organizational context, the design of leadership development initiatives need to be all-encompassing. 

This supplement seeks to answer how organizations can increase the odds of the success of learning and development initiatives by implanting leadership skills and traits to the organizational context, inscribing leadership development on-the-job work, and analyzing the effects of leadership development efforts to customize them for the future needs. 

1  Lussier & Achua 2001

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Topics: Leadership Development

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