Leadership Development Plan: How To Build A Great One

August 18, 2021
June 26, 2023
Leadership And Mentoring

Management isn’t something you just decide to do. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say, and Caesar’s leadership skills certainly weren’t either!

Instead, the key to doing a leadership title justice is a well-thought-out plan.

Your leadership development plan lays out the necessary steps you’ll need to take in becoming a better leader. It covers the skills you need to develop, the challenges you need to overcome, and the responsibilities you see in your future.

What’s not to love, right? So how do you get started?

When is the right time for a leadership development plan?

Is there ever the perfect time to do anything? Even if you’re not in a managerial position right now, having a leadership development plan will help you show initiative, enthusiasm and potential!

However, there are a few situations where it really makes sense to focus on that outline to the top table. If you’re just stepping into your first management role or switching to a new team, now is a great moment to build leadership skills. When you feel your aspirations to climb the company ladder intensifying or just want to get a sense of what the future might hold in a management role, it’s time to write a successful leadership development plan.

And what about those moments where new sets of challenges present themselves? Your team might lose a few members, and you’re suddenly managing a set of stretched people and resources. If you’ve not encountered that situation before, you’ll need a new set of tools to keep people on board – that’s where a good leadership development plan enters the picture.

Why are leadership development plans important — what benefits do they deliver?

A good leadership development plan can:

  • Help shape a highly motivational and goal-driven career strategy.
  • Make even the biggest of goals feel attainable.
  • Give you the chance to discover what you truly want from your career.
  • Identify natural soft and leadership skills within people.
  • Highlight the gaps in your skill bank and experiences.
  • Unlock a more impressive, aspirational, and exciting career path.
  • Encourage you to pursue new learning opportunities.
  • Bring clarity to your professional future.
  • Keep you focused on professional and personal improvement.
  • Empower you to develop a new skillset and thrive in any role.
  • Increase your impact in personal and professional relationships.

How to develop a leadership plan

Understand your baseline metrics! That’s a great starting point, which pain point are you solving? Which skill are you aiming to develop? Which numbers are you hoping to move and in which direction? This will also help in building leadership development goals tied to behaviour and performance.

If you skip this point, it’s like a castle built on sand, the activities and plan will probably fail. Before you read on, carry out this exercise and apply all of the below with that in mind.

How to create a leadership development plan of your own

Everyone’s journey will be different, so how do you write a leadership development plan that ticks all of your boxes?

Build your blueprint – write down your primary objectives for the next few years. These don’t necessarily have to be leadership development goals either. This could include learning a new skill, reaching a new position, or building trust within your team. It will act as your first draft of the plan and give you something to aim for as you build out the other elements and hone your leadership development plans.

Pinpoint your management style – learn about different leadership styles, such as autocratic, pacesetting, democratic, transformational, and laissez-faire, and decide which would best suit your specific context. Keep referring back to these works and understand how they can be applied in different situations – there’s no pressure to squeeze yourself into one box. Instead, think of your leadership style as a big bag of tricks!

Identify the pivotal leadership competencies – specify the leadership skills and competencies that your current or future role will require. That might mean conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, industry expertise, or courage. Consider any professional qualifications that you will need to gain, maintain or might help your credibility as a leader.

Understand natural leaders in your organisation – leaders aren’t just people with management titles, they’re influential people we want to follow! And if you can understand why people want to follow those individuals, you can incorporate that as you create a leadership development plan. Even that observation exercise will give you insights into what makes a great leader in the context of your business.

Take note of successful qualities – think about what being a ‘great leader’ means to you. What traits would you like to see in yourself in one, three and five years? And what about all the great leaders you’ve encountered along the way? What traits did they have, and what can you learn from them?

Seek 360-degree feedback – honesty is the best policy, and you can’t always be too objective about your own performance and talents. Whether that’s going easy on yourself or being a bit too harsh! So, ask your colleagues and manager for their assessment of your skills, strengths, and weaknesses. It would be helpful to conduct a self-assessment too. Well-rounded feedback is more likely to lead to a well-rounded and effective leadership development plan.

Edit the draft – Using the information that you’ve gathered, evolve your first draft of the plan. Stick to the ‘SMART’ goals layout (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely) as this will make your vision achievable and realistic.

Work out who’ll you be able to learn from – if you’re going to hit your leadership development goals, it can’t hurt to get a little help! There’ll be people in your personal and professional with the skills, experience and competencies you’ll need to develop. And typically, they’ll have been built in a relevant context, meaning they’re far more helpful in developing the right leadership qualities. Leverage those people in your leadership development program and you’ll go further, faster.

Think about what you’ll need and when – it’s not a case of all the skills you need have to be built tomorrow! In fact, a staggered approach in your leadership development plan might actually be beneficial when it comes to applying what you’re learning. Let’s say you need to become competent at running 1-2-1s but also at presenting to leadership – you don’t need to do both right away.

Let’s say your first employee meeting is in six weeks and a board is scheduled in 12 – those timelines can be brilliant at shaping your leadership development plans. You focus your efforts on building the skills needed for your 1-2-1 now and then gear your learning towards that next milestone, presenting to the big cheeses.

Build the feedback loops in from the start – When you measure and collect feedback matters. For example, if your leadership development plan is setting you up for better performance reviews, you can’t just run a post-review survey. You have to understand whether the review actually improved performance, and that means collecting feedback once the person has had a chance to apply the outcomes in their role. Consider what you’re building up to, what success looks like and when you need to gather that evidence to understand if you truly reached success.

Expert advice for your leadership development plan

When you work in a high-growth business, you may feel pressure to develop as a manager at the speed of light.

Fear not! These insights from inspiring voices may just give you the professional development boost and reassurance you need to stick the brakes on and grow your own way – even if there’s no formal leadership development plan in place.

You can’t make people do things” is an essential truth of leadership development — and one that many developing managers overlook. It’s so true that most people need the right environment and encouragement, not someone breathing down their neck.

See that your leadership development plan focuses more on how you can influence your teams with gentle, motivating nudges.

Tara Larson makes a great point, managers give us the trust, space and guidance to do great work – but they don’t teach us to suck eggs! And that means you shouldn’t be stepping on eggshells when opportunities to become a teacher emerge.

Micromanaging is a totally unsustainable approach — for you and your team, so you should cut it out of the leadership development plan. And to make sure you’re not falling into that trap, make feedback part of your 360-degree review. Give them prompts to rate your management style and core leadership skills.

Speaking of 360-degree feedback, does your leadership development plan challenge you to manage up? As Fareed Mosavat points out, it comes back to how well you can align with those above you in the hierarchy.

Leaders from Lyft, GoPay, Reforge, and CreditKarma discuss the importance — and difficulty — of managing up in detail in this article, but the crux of their advice is this: be empathetic and align your actions with company goals.

Learning to manage up is crucial if you want your leadership development journey to take you all the way to the C-Suite.

Are we really all ‘faking it ‘til we make it’? If your leadership plan is up to scratch, you really shouldn’t be! Who are your management mentors? Seek them out, observe their leadership behaviour, and learn from what they do.

This is a fantastic way to put fundamental leadership skills — empathy, listening and following, critical thinking — into practice from day one.

Need some leadership support along the way?

Batman and Robin, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley – every great leader has a sidekick. We’d love to be yours!

Our all-in-one learning platform gives you all the tools to create brilliant leadership development plans in your business! In fact, it’s not just leaders – we’ll empower you to provide leadership growth pathways for everyone in your team. And we’d love to show you how!

Let us lead you on a tour of HowNow, book yourself in for a demo today and leadership development greatness awaits!

Check out our other leadership development resources