Leadership Courses: 11 Tips For Building Great Ones

April 20, 2021
June 26, 2023
Leadership And Mentoring

Behind every great leader, there’s a great leadership course. Well, that’s not entirely true, but hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll have enough tips to make sure that’s the case.

But why is it so crucial to build effective and personalised pathways for leaders? They could help increase internal mobility, they can help align learning with business goals, they could build better relationships and so much more!

So, let’s get right into these 11 tips and steps for creating leadership development courses that drive your company forward.

1. Consider their starting point

Leadership is such a broad term! There are so many different levels, stages and types of leadership, and your job should be to work out where your people sit within those.

Are they completely new to the concept of leading others? Have they gained some kind of junior management skills or experience and need to kick on with their leadership journey? Is the experience directly linked to a different sector and now they’re making a move in their management career?

Then you’ve also got to consider that leaders aren’t necessarily people with leadership titles, they’re anyone we choose to follow. In fact, people we choose to follow are probably better natural leaders than the people we feel obligated to follow.

Someone might have loads of experience at coaching people through difficult times or helping people development, without ever having occupied a traditional management role.

So, your leadership course and content can’t be built on assumptions or rolled out like it’s relevant to everybody. We have to understand people’s experiences, the context of where they’ll be leading and their current skill levels.

2. What are your company’s short and long-term goals?

It’s a good idea for your leadership courses to align the wider business objectives. There’s a number of reasons why, but the most convincing argument is that it’ll help you convince senior leaders of its value and help you demonstrate how you’re adding value.

Why aligning L&D with business goals means changing the process.

We often talk about skills gaps, but when you start thinking about objectives you might spot leadership skills gaps too. Which managers are missing in order for the company to reach those goals? What time frame are we looking at? And how are we going to address those by building the leadership style and skills?

3. Keep your eyes peeled for potential leaders

When there is a leadership gap, it’s wise to think about whether someone currently in the team has the potential to plug it. Not only does that offer people the progress that engages and retains them, but it also ensures you’re making the most of all their knowledge around how the company currently works, the culture, the values and your people.

If one door opens to them and they do find themselves in a leadership role, that could open up progression to other team members who are capable of stepping into their shoes. Those are just a few of the reasons why internal mobility can really drive employee engagement and should influence your thinking for building leaders and leadership skills.

Building a skills profile for the people in your company helps you do this at speed. Let’s say we know there are five traits that correlate to management skills internally, we could look at which people possess them and have more confidence they will thrive in a leadership role.

4. Consider the company culture

You won’t always promote internal talent into the leadership team, so it’s important to consider how well potential hires align with company values and culture. When you’ve found the right candidate, those themes shouldn’t stop – instead, you should be aiming to amplify their understanding and alignment with the culture.

It comes back to our case for personalisation. What does that individual need to thrive in our culture? Is it a case of giving them more confidence to lead collaborative sessions as that’s a pillar of your company? Or maybe you run a different cadence for performance reviews and they need upskilling on that?

These aren’t things an off-the-shelf management course can offer! But you can build bespoke content and resources that give people the information they need.

5. Use peer-to-peer development and mentoring in leadership courses

What better way to build leadership skills than to pair somebody with effective leaders and senior managers within the team? The knowledge they’ve built on the job can be hugely beneficial in mentoring others and helping them develop, precisely because they’ve done it on the job, in the context of your company and that makes it highly relevant.

So if there’s an opportunity to pair people with the relevant internal experts as a part of your leadership courses, do it! Seeing other people’s leadership styles is also incredibly useful in shaping your own.

This also gives a sense of gratification to the expert! Who does want to be seen as knowledgable and able to share wisdom with others.

6. Learn from the development pathways of others

It’s not just your people that can learn from others, dig into the numbers and insights and you’ll find plenty of valuable data to guide how you build your leadership courses. Let’s say our five highest-performing managers have undertaken leadership qualifications or management courses we could look into which ones and what impact they had.

In HowNow, for example, you could search for learners with a particular job title, analyse their development history and the skills they have in common to build that profile.

And we can use these insights to build better pathways for others and strategic leadership approaches that help people perform better.

7. Determine where they’ll be managing their relationships: how leadership looks in a hybrid world.

If someone’s managing an entirely remote team, 17 hours of face-to-face relationship building might not be the best use of their time. And if there’s a platform they’ll be using to engage with the majority of their team for the majority of the time, learning how to master that system should be a key part of their leadership course.

In the hybrid age, considering remote leadership skills and traits should be front of mind.

We might sound like a broken record but it’s not enough to simply decide what each leader in your team needs to have, you’ve got to consider the specific tools and talents each individual will need to do their job well.

That also means understanding which tools people are familiar with and to which extent – especially if they’re an external leadership hire. If they’ve never used the tools in your tech stack, your leadership courses have to give them the proficiency to use them for whichever purpose needed.

8. Consider using practice scenarios and assessments to give people confidence

If you build practice scenarios into your leadership training, you’ll achieve a couple of things.

Firstly, you’ll offer pressure-free environments for them to put what they’re learning to the test, which is especially important if you consider the potential implications of poor manager-learner interactions.

Secondly, you’re turning passive consumption of resources into active learning, enhancing the chances that your potential leader is going to remember all that valuable information.

If you can create practice environments that push people and encourage them to fail, you’ll get a better understanding of what they need to do the job well too. If, within your leaderships courses, you can say, this is the thing you struggled with in a low-pressure setting, so it’s something we need to give you more support on before you do the real thing.

Try thinking outside the box too, if you’re struggling for inspiration, maybe we can shamelessly tell you about a few of the things you can do in HowNow? Why not ask a learner to leave an audio or video response on how they’d resolve an employee concern? Sometimes, it’s not what they’d say, it’s how they’d say it – so a written response wouldn’t help you gauge their tone.

Test assignments in HowNow platform

Another good example would be to set up dependencies in flows or questions. What we mean by that is setting up a flow that sends them to questions dependent on what their answer was. If you want them to understand the typical chain of events that might unfold as a result of a response, this is a great and consequence-free option.

9. Who are they going to be working with and how does context influence that?

Managing relationships is a key part of any leadership role, so your course should do as much as it can to help people do that effectively. If it doesn’t help them understand who they’re working with, in what capacity and at which times, it won’t be particularly helpful for building the connections they need.

Remember, context is the magic word! Who are they going to be managing? What are the goals and objectives of those people or that department? What’s their role and management relationship been like before?

You might choose to ask the right colleagues to record videos explaining all those things and drag that into one course, you might choose to sum it up in written form or create some kind of visual guide – that’s for you to decide, but these are great ways to add the context needed for great relationships.

10. Measure their progress

The best way to do that is by using a 360-degree review process that involves self-reflection on the leader’s part, feedback from those they’re leading and your own observations.

In HowNow, we help you build a dynamic skills profile for each learner, allowing them to add their own proficiency for skills in self-assessments and request endorsements from colleagues.

What adding skills to HowNow looks like. Description of what makes a competent skill
How to ask for skills endorsements in HowNow

Add that to the information for tests (which you can always ask them to repeat at later dates to measure progress), and you’ll start building a clear picture of their progress.

Especially if you’re bringing performance data into the equation! If the goal is to improve employee feedback scores and sentiment towards managers, can you measure if that improved based on your leadership courses? And can you then ask employees why their score changed in order to make sure there’s not just a correlation there, but the learning had an influential role?

11. Work out where you’re going to manage it all: Finding the right tech or platform

Doing all or even most of these things can be difficult to manage and that’s why you have to pick your tech or platform wisely. If you’re looking for a platform that helps you create courses easily, identify skills, measure progress, tap into social learning and a lot more, let us show you around HowNow!

Bonus tips we added later (updated for 2023)

It’s time for the quickfire round! Great advice we missed the first time around but should help you in building great leadership courses.

Tap into your internal experts to create content

Slightly different to our mentoring tip and well worth calling out! If you’ve got internal experts who you often lean on to teach others, it might be worth capturing their insights in a consistent, on-demand format that stops them from repeating the same things again and again.

Let’s say we’ve got an expert at performance reviews, someone who runs better sessions than anyone. An explainer video that people can access whenever they need it, is a useful way to capture that advice. It’s available in moments of need and only needs to be delivered by the expert once.

Think big but test small

If we’re testing something new in our leadership courses and there’s a degree of uncertainty about how well it will work, this is our time to test on a smaller scale.

Rather than spending months creating something we assume might work and rolling it out to everyone, how can we create something we can test quickly that doesn’t eat into time or resources.

A great example would be video content. We can film on our laptops pretty easily and cost effectively before we get to the point of hiring a video producer or animator. The former is something we can test in a low friction way and the results will tell us whether it’s worth investing more into that type of content.

Check out our other leadership development resources