Leadership Development Strategy: A Guide For The Modern World Of Work

$50 billion is spent on leadership development every year. Are you wasting your slice of that pie or spending it wisely? Shipping people off for courses and seminars helps you spend it, but does the time they spend there make them any better at their role…

The answer is too often no! That’s why you’re here, right?

You want to ensure your leadership budget has a real impact in your business! Tick box training ends up ticking very few of the right boxes in the end, but a personalised, strategic approach could ensure you’re getting a better return on every leadership penny.

Whether you’re a fast-growing company building your first batch of leaders or a large business whose training needs an overhaul, this guide will help you create an impactful leadership development plan.

Entering the world of leadership development

What is Leadership development? And why does it matter?

Leader is a title, leadership is the talent you need to do that title justice. Sadly, not everyone with the title has the talent, and not everyone with the talent has the title.

But why does this happen? Sometimes, people are fast tracked into their first leadership role without the right guidance and training to do it justice. When we’re busy, it’s easy to use time constraints as an excuse for not giving managers the skills they need. And when our business is growing fast, it’s likely we’ll create more new leadership roles when time is at a premium…

Leadership development is the solution to this riddle and the problems it presents. Programs and activities that drive more confidence, better skills and enhanced abilities among our current and future leaders.

Typically, these are organised courses and pathways designed to give individuals the skills and traits needed to perform leadership roles more effectively. In many cases, it’s an exercise in identifying those with the potential to be a future leader and building a path to succession planning. In others, it’s improving the capabilities of people to lead in your organisation.

Ultimately, people don’t become great leaders until they have great leadership skills – development is the difference.

The evolution of developing leaders: The role of training, coaching and programs

Like so many aspects of learning and development, we seem to be breaking away from tradition at almost every leadership turn. So, it’s important to look at the development of leadership development and how our methods have evolved over time.

Leadership development training courses were the be-all and end-all not so long ago! You’d go away for a few days, listen to experts discussing theory or personal experience, and maybe do some networking along the way. The trouble is, the content was likely to be quite general and cater for a wide audience. It wouldn’t be that applicable to your role, and you wouldn’t necessarily have an opportunity to apply it for a while anyway.

That might explain how we ended up with a growing love for leadership development coaching. Specialists would come in and work with individuals or groups to provide guidance and training to help them progress. Whether it’s practice exercises or tackling real-life situations, the coach’s role is to help you reach your goals.

However, we often come across challenges each day, throughout the day, and we need to tackle them there and then. It’s no use encountering a crisis and waiting a week to ask the coaching group how you’re supposed to respond! Good leaders are proactive and don’t let negative feelings linger…

And so we arrive at one of the most common and popular techniques today, leadership development programs.

Developed internally, with the company goals and culture in mind, and personalised based on the individual’s goals and current leadership skills, these are pathways that have an impact on both the person and business.  In essence, they cater to the person, not their title! They give budding leaders access to people and knowledge that make them better every day, in the context of work – hence why they’re so popular.

Now, we know you’re itching to get into how you build your leadership development programs and plans! We will get to that, but first, we need to look at the benefits and context behind why they matter.

The key benefits and advantages of leadership development

Create leaders who understand the culture

Culture is just as important as strategy when it comes to achieving your goals. A plan of action can only successfully be put into action if the right environment exists, which is why it’s so vital that your leaders understand and embody your culture.

The trouble is, if you just drop a new leader into your company, they have to lead and get a grip of the day-to-day culture all at once. If you’re promoting someone from within, they probably understand the culture but lack the traits and skills to do the leading part well. Leadership development plans (especially personalised ones) help you address imbalance, regardless of which side it sits on.

And if your leaders do understand the company and its culture, they’ll be far better at aligning with senior management and devising ways to reach the overall goals and objectives.

Succession planning and business continuity

On the topic of promoting from within, leadership development ensures that while you might miss a departing leader’s amazing personality, you’re not pulling your hair out trying to cover their responsibilities.

The average notice period for a manager is around three to six months, which is a pretty good window for succession planning and developing leaders who can step into their shoes. That window is crucial for mining all their on-the-job experience and knowledge, sharing that with a successor/future leader and giving them opportunities to work together as departure day approaches.

Retain top talent, attract more top talent

Promoting from within means a path to progress. Paths to progress mean people can see a future at your company. If there’s a future at your company, they’re less likely to leave and hit you with hiring and loss of productivity costs.

94% of employees have said they’d stay at the company longer if it invested in their progress, while 74% think a lack of development opportunities is holding them back from reaching their full potential. Leadership development pathways are a small but important part of that overall progression culture.

But even if people have no desire to step into more senior roles, leadership development programs can help retain them by giving them a great leader! A Gallup study on the State of the American Manager revealed that “50% of Americans have left a job to get away from their manager at some point in their career.”

If you can work out what’s important to your people and give those leading them the skills to incorporate that into their approach, you’re far less likely to hear ‘my manager’ as the reason for leaving.

And given that word of mouth and employer reputation are crucial factors in whether someone applies for a role at your company, it’ll also help you attract top talent.

Navigate and respond to change effectively

Humans are hardwired to resist change! Sadly, our industries aren’t and continue evolving at speeds faster than any human. Effective managers manage change effectively, which is why it can and should be a crucial part of your leadership development strategy.

If you equip leaders to anticipate and respond to change, they’ll not only keep employees on board, they’ll ensure your business gets ahead while everyone around you is losing theirs.

Shape leaders who can translate plans into action

We’ve alluded to this already, but having a strong strategy on paper is only half the battle. You can have the best ideas in the world mapped out in a spreadsheet, but they’ll never become great ideas if your leaders aren’t capable of bringing them to life.

Your leadership development plan can simultaneously help them understand the business strategy while learning the skills needed to put it into action.

Better performance through leadership maturity

If you achieve leadership maturity, you’re 11 times “more likely to have a high number of leaders who can build talent for competitive advantage”, according to Bersin by Deloitte’s report on High-Impact Leadership Development.

It also stated that you’re seven times more likely “to have a high number of leaders who can inspire people to follow them” and six times more likely to “have a high number of leaders who can create synergies through working in partnership (collaboration), provide employees with a vision and direction, and drive change and innovation.”

The full maturity model breaks down what each stage is in detail, but it’s essentially a journey from foundational leadership (engaging business leaders, exposing people to leadership development programs etc.) to systemic leadership (encouraging risk-taking, collaboration with other leaders etc.)

Drive collaboration through leadership development

Ultimately, every leader in your business is working towards a shared purpose – or it should at least feel that way! It’s crucial that leaders understand how to work together and appreciate the different roles they fill in reaching those organisational goals. If your leadership development plans enable leaders to engage with their peers, you’ll facilitate this cross-business collaboration.

The other side of the coin is creating an environment where everyone feels they have a say in how the team or business is run. That’s great for a sense of trust and loyalty, but also ensuring leaders understand their people better. Not to mention the power it has in driving a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration throughout the business.

Better customer experiences and retention

A bi-product of almost everything we’ve mentioned in this section is a better experience for the people using your products or services. If employees are engaged and happy because of a stronger organisational culture, and if leaders are driving behaviours that make them better at their role, that filters through to customers.

13 leadership development statistics that explain why it’s so important

  • 55% of Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) named “developing the next generation of leaders” as their biggest talent problem. (DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021).
  • 72% of Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) believe that “leadership aspirations of employees” will be a key area of change over the next decade. (DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021).
  • 83% of enterprises believe it’s important to develop leaders at all levels as part of the organisational culture. (GoRemotely).
  • However, only 5% of organisations have integrated leadership development in their business. (GoRemotely).
  • 58% of managers said they didn’t receive any management training. (Kevin Wayne Johnson).
  • 77% of organisations are currently experiencing a leadership gap. (Kevin Wayne Johnson).
  • And only 10% of CEOs believe their company’s leadership development initiatives have a clear business impact. (Kevin Wayne Johnson).
  • Training can increase leadership performance by 28%. (Writer’s Block Live).
  • 10,000 Baby Boomers reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 every day. This puts pressure on millennials and Gen-X workers to fill the leadership gaps left by the boomers. (CompareCamp).
  • Overall, approximately 25 percent of total training investment went to leadership development, below the peak investment of 30 percent in 2017, according to Training Magazine’s 2021 Leadership Development Survey.
  • According to Gallup, “managers who are directly supervised by highly engaged leadership teams are 39% more likely to be engaged than managers who are supervised by actively disengaged leadership teams.”
  • 63% Of Millennials Said Their Leadership Skills Were Not Being Fully Developed. (Inspire).
  • In a study conducted by the Journal of Applied Psychology, leadership training had the following positive impacts on output. Leadership behaviours were reported to have increased by 28%, while learning and organisational outcomes were narrowly behind with a 25% uplift.

The skills and qualities of a good leader

Remember, not every leader needs to have the same skills or the same focus on particular skills – given that any leadership development program should be created in the context of their role and your business.

However, certain skills and qualities are universally consistent across every top leader, which is why they’re staples of leadership development programs and we’re flagging those now!


People might perceive that too much time on soft leadership skills like empathy is unlikely to have a solid impact on business metrics. That’s wrong! And a little unempathetic, if we’re being honest.

A 2021 report from Catalyst on The Power of Empathy in Times of Crisis and Beyond revealed the staggering impact of empathic leaders. 61% of those with this kind of leader report often or always being innovative at work compared to just 13% of those with less empathic leaders. It’s a similar situation when it comes to work engagement, with a 76% to 32% ratio between empathic and non-empathic senior leaders.

Ultimately, engaged and innovative employees are more likely to help you hit targets and evolve at speed. Hence why empathy is a universal trait all good leaders need.

You might encounter a bit of stigma or an eye roll when you mention soft skills, like empathy, and that’s because they were overdone leadership development tropes for a long time! But when you add in this context, the value becomes much clearer.

Have discussions with employees about their life outside of work, this will help you understand any personal challenges or situations that might influence when and how they work. 86% of respondents in the Catalyst report agreed that empathic managers support work-life needs and balances.
Unless you understand what’s happening outside of work, you’ll struggle to provide that support.


You could say honesty is the best policy, but the truth is that being an honest leader means admitting you don’t always know the right policy or answer. Effective leaders are not only honest with their employees but with themselves too, which is the driver of trustful and fruitful relationships.

They don’t pretend to know everything, and they’re transparent with everything they do know (or that they’re allowed to share at least). A good leader keeps everyone in the loop and explains the rationale behind decisions, whether they’re good, bad or ugly. People would rather hear bad news in an honest way now than be kept in the dark or at arm’s length only to be disappointed later. The thing is, there’s an art to it and that’s where communication skills come into play for managers.

People might not always agree with decisions, but they’re more likely to understand if you communicate the motivation behind them truthfully.

Share personal stories about the times you’ve succeeded or failed and the lessons you learnt as a result. This will not only demonstrate self-awareness and fallibility to your employees, but it’ll encourage them to engage in similar exercises. Ultimately, this builds individual relationships, a culture of openness and empathetic leadership skills.

Critical and analytical thinking

Critical-thinking leaders can be summarised by whether they’re able to answer two questions: Who have your past actions influenced and how? Who might your next set of actions impact, and why?

The steps you’ve taken in the past can be a lesson on what (or what not) to do next. Anticipating the outcome of your plans can help you deliver successful strategies and react quickly when things don’t go to that plan. The trouble is that not every leader reflects or takes the time to analyse their actions in detail.

So, how can you become a critical thinker? Start by collecting all the relevant data and information – at least you’ll have something to be critical of! Use that to determine potential outcomes or routes that can be taken and ask lots of questions at this point. Reflect on your experiences but be open with relevant stakeholders and ensure you keep an open, curious mind.

Give yourself a buffer for reflection. A lot of leaders fall into the trap of trying to implement and reflect on strategies at the same time! It’s very difficult to determine if you’re on the right path if you’re on that hamster wheel. Dizzy decisions are unlikely to be effectives ones…


Recognising the small flame of a potential problem is far better than extinguishing a full-blown fire. You’re a leader, not an emergency service!

One of the most underrated leadership skills is identifying potential risks and putting plans in place to make sure they remain just that – potential risks. That also includes contingency plans for problems that might arise and building frameworks to cope with unexpected issues that crop up.

The trouble with being a reactive leader is that when problems do catch alight, you spend far longer trying to put out that flame. This means your team, tasks and everything else on the to-do list is indefinitely tossed onto the backburner!

Think about all the challenges your team or company has faced in the past, what can you learn from them, and is anything similar likely to happen again? Also, map out all upcoming events and milestones that might have an impact and consider how to prepare for them.
For example, if a new product launch is on the horizon, plan out how you’ll manage that period and which challenges might arise.

Self awareness

If the number of definitions and interpretations are anything to go by, self-awareness has to be one of the most critical leadership skills. For some, it’s being aware of your own limitations as a leader and working on those, for others, it’s about delegating tasks effectively when you simply don’t have the skill set. Some people’s idea of self-awareness is simply reflecting on when things went well or badly and trying to work out how your actions influence those outcomes.

Self-awareness is key to becoming an authentic leader, one who is honest, open and relatable. It’s also another important role-modelling technique, encouraging others to reflect on their experiences, strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware is a core tenet of any winning organisational culture because every employee needs the ability to reflect in order to grow.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking self-awareness means locking yourself in a room and only emerging once you’ve worked out all your strengths and weaknesses.
There’s plenty you can figure out by understanding how others perceive you and their experiences of working with you. Speak to them! You might miss a blindspot or become too harsh on yourself if it’s based solely on self-reflection.

Strong communicator

You can have the best ideas in the world, but they’ll never come to life if you’re not delivering them effectively! And so part of your leadership development has to be communicating the right information at the right moment, which is a skill in itself.

People don’t want to feel out of the loop, but they also don’t want to be overwhelmed by information. That means you have to become adept at tailoring messages, adding a personal touch and understanding who needs to hear which messages.

Listen to and think about your audience! People will give you plenty of hints on how best to communicate with them on a daily basis. Which terms and phrases do they use when you speak with them? Which channels do they use to reach out to you? When they provide feedback, what are the key issues they’re flagging?

Tech savvy and virtual leadership skills

According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021, leaders are least effective when it comes to digital prowess. When asked about their confidence across a number of leader traits, leading virtually (20%) and digital acumen (29%) were rock bottom of the list. Here’s a direct quote from the report:

“Across a broad set of leadership skills, leaders reported having the least confidence in their digital acumen and ability to lead virtually. In fact, 23% of leaders say they aren’t effective at all at leading virtual teams. Our research shows that few organisations are developing these skills in their leaders. Fewer than 30% of leaders said they had ever received development for these two skills.”

However, in a hybrid working world and when technology is so crucial to connecting people, we can’t afford to see our skills lacking in this area!

And, let’s be honest, if you aren’t keeping yourself tech savvy, that’s going to impact your overall leadership development capabilities – if you can’t get your head around a new platform where great leadership advice is being shared, you’ll never learn from it.

Use those powers of self-awareness! Work out where you’re lacking digital skills and begin that process of self-development. If there are tech-savvy leaders and departments in your company, tap into their relevant experience and learn what you can from them.

Focuses on developing others

We’ve saved the best until last because people development is one of the most influential strings to a leader’s bow. Firstly, employees value opportunities to develop and appreciate leaders who take an interest in their progress. Secondly, leaders can use it to develop skills needed to reach the company goals and ultimately demonstrate their impact.

The challenge lies in how you do it! Development doesn’t mean signing everyone up for the same seminar each year or just giving them a login for an online course library.

Development is only useful (to both businesses and employees) if it has an impact – if it’s driving the career or company in the right direction. If you’re not measuring your skills or even the impact of development activities, you won’t get very far.

Book yourself in for a chat with someone in our sales team! They’ll discuss your people and leadership development goals and explain why HowNow can empower you to reach them.
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Everything you need to know about leadership development plans

When boxers prepare for huge bouts, their trainers don’t simply leave them to it for 12 weeks! The opponent in question requires a game plan, sparring with experienced fighters needs structure and post-training analysis that helps you improve over time.

The trouble is, while a lot of companies take title-winning approaches, plenty seem happy to leave their corner for long periods. They’re heavyweights in poor planning and unlikely to boast knockout leadership development programs!

So, how do you become a leadership contender? That’s what we’ll discuss here, tangible steps you can take without using some cookie-cutter templates! Development always tastes best when it’s tailored to your company, and there’ll be plenty of time for celebratory cookies if you get the recipe right!

What to do before you set up your leadership development strategy

Remember that self-awareness skill we spoke about, now’s the ideal time to work on it! In almost every facet of business, context is king – without it, we’re unable to make our best decisions. In honesty, we’ll probably even struggle to make average decisions and are more likely to make counterproductive ones without it.

The plot of any good leadership development journey starts with setting the scene. Here’s how you can do it well.

Work out where your company is headed

Where are you going? Over what time frame? And how are you currently planning to get there? If you understand the goals and road map of your business, it’s far easier to work out where you need leaders and leadership skills. Remember, impact is the ultimate success factor of any development program.

Establish the current learning and development culture

Is L&D already happening at your company? If so, how and where does it happen? Understanding those current behaviours prevents you from creating something counterintuitive to the company culture and asking people to change their behaviour.

If a learning culture doesn’t exist, this is still an important recognition to make and should prompt you to question what that would look like and how you’ll implement it.

Understand employee statistics on turnover and rate of progression

How often do people leave and why do they do it? How often are people progressed into leadership roles, and what impact does this have? Given that retention and progression are intrinsically linked, these are two questions you should be able to answer before building out your leadership development plans.

Perhaps there’s an existing cynicism that progression rarely happens, and you’ll have to grapple with that before people really buy in. Maybe you’ve promoted too many people at once in the past and seen a negative impact on performance. The answers will be in the data, you just need to ask the right questions.

Assess current working relationships and leadership potential

It’s highly likely that some team members are already showing their leadership talent, and it’ll be visible in how they work with colleagues each day. Understanding how people work together also helps you realise which management approaches are well-received by people and the styles of leadership they respond to. If collaborative leadership drives employee performance and happiness, that’s another important piece of context for your plans.

Review your current technology stack and systems

Imagine you book a flight somewhere far away for team building and suddenly find out the majority have a fear of flying – that’s a first-class ticket to team turbulence. The same principle applies if you build leadership development plans around technology that people never use or struggle to get to grips with. There’s no point building a course out in your LMS if it turns out nobody ever logs in or resents it every time they do.

Speak to your people!

Ultimately, leaders sink or swim based on whether they help others float! So, it’s probably in your best interest to speak with employees before you even start planning out any leadership development programs. What do they think makes a great leader? Which qualities and approaches do they feel bring out the best in them?

This won’t just give you great insights, it gives them a voice and platform where they feel like they’re being heard. And recognition really is leadership 101.

Understanding and setting your leadership goals

Great plans are built around goals! Even as far back as 1979, Harvard MBA Business School revealed that the 3% of graduates who’d established goals were earning ten times the other 97% put together just a decade after their graduation ceremony. Now, the validity of this 42-year old study has been questioned at times, but it certainly points to the established wisdom that goals play key roles in success.

But when it comes to leadership development, there are many moving parts on the goals front – all of which are crucial to the understanding context and driving success.

The multiple goals you need to understand

Leadership development goals live in a sweet spot between what’s best for that person, their team and the company as a whole, as you can see below. A good leadership development plan weaves the three together so that everyone wins.

Defining skills and what impact means

It’s easy to get caught on the goal-setting hamster wheel or thinking the three above are all you need to tick off, but that’s a naive approach that limits success. Reaching certain goals is dependent on having the skills needed to get there. For example, how is a budding leader going to help you introduce new products if they’re lacking in the launch and strategy departments?

Establishing those skills is just as important as setting goals, and so is measuring proficiency in them over time. If you define what impact looks like, you can work backwards from it, establish the required skills and work out if you’ve got them in your team. If not, they should form a key part of your leadership development program.

The power of personalising goals

We’ll spare you another Venn diagram, but the two suggestions above have something in common – they recognise that each potential leader is different. Even two people in the same company and department will require different approaches to leadership development and have varying role and skill goals.

That’s why we need to resist the urge to cut corners in leadership development goal setting! It might be tempting to reuse and recycle, but it won’t help you have that impact in the long term. Everyone is different, treat them like it.

Assessing the use of collective leadership development

Wait, that doesn’t sound like treating people as unique individuals! True, people won’t have the exact same goals but they might need to build the same skills – which is why it’s important to establish skills as well as goals. Say four people across the business need project management skills, there is an opportunity to learn together and from each other. Fittingly, it’s about recognising that overlap.

Work out who needs to be involved

Another thought should go to key stakeholders in someone’s leadership development journey. From senior management to junior team members, everyone will have an interest in whether they succeed. Working out who that is and in what capacity enables you to drive buy-in at the right moments. It’ll also help you understand what impact looks like and who you need to show it to.

Common objections and why leadership development pathways fail

Speaking with stakeholders also helps you identify any hesitancy around investing in a budding leader’s development plan. It’s easy to assume that everyone will be raring for that person to develop but that’s not always the case – which is why it’s crucial we understand why people might object and the key reasons leadership pathways can fail.

Common objections

It takes too much time and money – counter this by establishing and explaining the impact of developing that leader, framing it largely around the influence on company goals and productivity.

It’ll distract from short-term goals and day-to-day tasks – counter this by explaining the timelines and time management of your plan, while reminding them of how it will make people better at their current role or drive them towards goals.

We already have people in these roles or with these skills – counter this by asking them what happens when that person leaves! Siloed knowledge is no good when it comes to succession planning and social learning.

It’ll make our leaders too similar if they’re all undergoing similar training – counter it by explaining how each plan will be personalised and take their individuality into account.

There’s nothing wrong with how we currently build leaders – counter it by stating that while this might be true, there are ways you can become more structured and effective. Your plan/process should do the talking on that front.

Why don’t we start/continue outsourcing leadership development – counter it by explaining how bringing it in house gives you more control in connecting it with company goals and culture, empowering you to create better-fit leaders.

Why leadership development programs fail

Others sank so that we could soar, so it’s our leadership duty to learn from their lessons! Here are some of the common pitfalls and reasons why development programs have failed.

  • They neglect the context we discussed at the start of this section.
  • This means leadership development plans become detached from where they’ll be applied – meaning too much theory and not enough practice.
  • They fail to treat people as individuals and take blanket approaches.
  • People fail to incorporate ongoing reflection and measurement into the process.
  • It only uses certain learning methods, for example, being wedded to external classroom training sessions, and neglects those that might be a better fit for your business.
  • They throw people in at the deep end, without structure and with immense pressure to learn on the job, rather than helping them build skills over time.
  • The right people aren’t involved at the right moments, from both learning and stakeholder perspectives.
  • Old habits are favoured over trying new approaches that are likely to be a better fit.
  • They’re not flexible and adaptable to changes within the organisation.

How to build your leadership development program

There’s no blanket approach you can roll out when it comes to leadership development plans! There are steps you can take and best practices to follow, but they should always point you back to creating something built around the context of your business.

And like anything, the more leadership plans you build out, the better you get! That’s why we picked the brains of two leading lights in the leadership development, coaching and consulting world: T-Minus and LifeLabs Learning.

Define a clear purpose and impact

It was one of the first points Lola Chapado, T-Minus’ Leadership Development Programme Owner, made to us, and it’s fitting because it has to be the starting point for any leadership strategy.

Defining impact might be tricky, but it’s what stops up slipping into the tick box, completion comfort zone. Without establishing how we’re measuring leadership behaviour, we lack clarity around what success looks like. Whether it’s through performance metrics or numbers on employees happiness and retention, we need to know what impact is, and it has to tie into who we are as a company.

Similarly, and as we’ll get to shortly, we have to sync up with the wider company goals too, because leadership will be a key factor in whether we reach them.

This concept was echoed by the LifeLabs Learning team as they explained their process to us:

“Understanding what success looks like will help guide both the structure of your program and how you measure program success.

“Take these two examples: if success is increased confidence in your high-potential individual contributor population, you might measure with confidence surveys. If success is that the leadership team navigates a complex and high-stakes change well, your measurement will be much more tailored to long-term organisational impact (rather than just participant impact).”

Align with the company goals and culture

Our experts both shared this alignment sentiment but came at it from two interesting angles! For LifeLabs Learning, it was a case of linking leadership development with company goals:

“It might be the company’s number one priority to have your sales leaders prepared to launch a new product to customers next quarter. If those same sales leaders are in the leadership program, is it helping them get there? If not, it’s worth investigating if this is the right program (or the right time) to launch!”

While Lola discussed the need to sync up with your company culture, values and behaviours! She explained that “we need to have a clear understanding of which leadership skills, traits and behaviours make the organisation successful?”

That comes down to involving the right people! If you’re building out a leadership development plan with a founder, as is often the case in fast-growing startups, they can speak directly to the behaviours and culture. If not, you need to cast your net wider, beyond the easy catch of HR and talent teams and into the deeper water of managers and employees at every level of the business.

Ask managers what’s missing right now and what they need to perform better, remember they can act as culture and message amplifiers! Speak to employees about what they expect from leaders and assess the current performance of both high-performing managers and those who are underperforming – both will teach you valuable lessons.
That tip above will help you build a 360-degree picture of leadership in your company. From what’s holding people back now to what’s expected in the future.

Think about your leadership maturity

Where is your business in its leadership journey? You might be a fast-growing startup that’s just building your first batch, or you could be a large corporation with a clear understanding of what leadership means in your company.

You could be working with anything from a blank canvas to a clear framework for how leaders should behave, where you are on that spectrum influences how you structure programs. On a similar note, your organisational maturity will impact your approach and should also be considered.

Consider how it fits into the day-to-day running of the business

People don’t become great leaders overnight, it’s small and consistent steps over a longer period that drive changes in behaviour. And those baby steps can only be taken if the leadership development plan relates to their day-to-day role and how the business runs in reality.

As Lola explains, “we have to immerse the plan in the reality of the business and incorporate business conversations, rather than just using generic examples.”

If we’re building the feedback muscle, for example, why would we include role-playing scenarios over real opportunities for real discussion around real work? The same applies to leading made-up projects. Wouldn’t it be better to create structure and guidance around an existing initiative, perhaps including safe practice environments where people can hone their approach?

LifeLabs Learning also point to incorporating it into the daily workflow, but from the perspective of time. We have to consider how many minutes or hours people can realistically dedicate to a program.

“The time spent in the program should be reasonable, associated with outcomes, and achievable with current workload. Prop tip: share the attendance expectations – we see encouraged or expected to yield best results to avoid unclear expectations or attendance problems.”

Create learning around the moments of need

If you haven’t heard of the 5 Moments Of Need framework, we’ve got the perfect podcast for you! At its heart is the idea that learning has been built around giving people new and more information, where it should be shaped around where we need to apply it and solve challenges.

If we think about the point above and how leaders often need to react quickly to changes, the Moments of Need map perfectly onto our leadership development efforts. Training needs to help them apply knowledge and solve real challenges, rather than just overwhelming them with information in the wrong moments.

Communicate ‘the why’ and give people a reason to care

We talked about impact and purpose, but it’s important to you communicate that to others – whether that’s budding leaders or employees! If people don’t understand why a leadership development program is going to drive the company and its staff towards their goals, why should they care?

LifeLabs Learning explain this step as defining whether the goal and strategic link up is explicit.

“One thing that we’ve learned is that often what feels so obvious to those building the program isn’t so clear to the folks who are participating. Be sure to be diligent about sharing the ‘why’.

“What are you hoping to accomplish with the program? What’s the benefit for people? What’s the larger org-wide benefit? This makes everyone informed players in the game and creates a sense of autonomy in their growth.”

A great follow up question would be, how are you promoting your leadership plans? A great plan is only half the battle, how you position, market and sell it to the relevant stakeholders will influence how much buzz and buy-in you get.

Test, fail and try again

Our final tip from Lola is that standalone initiatives just don’t work! Especially if we consider those ideas of linking to company goals and culture. They change over time, and so must leadership – it’s no use building out a plan and recycling it in that form over the next five years.

Launch it and assess how it works within the context of the business. Perhaps you made assumptions that need tweaking once you see it out there in the business or learn that certain steps are missing when it comes to applying knowledge. You’ll either see it in the results or participants will tell you, it’s a case of having that mindset to look and listen!

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

Leadership Courses: 11 Tips For Building Great Ones

Nov 1
5 min read

Tools at your leadership development disposal

Let’s recap what we know about great leadership development plans so far.

They’re personalised and built around the realities of someone’s role or business.

They give people knowledge they can apply when they need it most.

There’s a clear purpose and impact linked to the company goals.

And they give people a reason to care about their success.

In short, rest in peace the traditional leadership training courses and workshops. Rather than ticking a training box, we need learning opportunities and tools that help us tick all of the boxes above. Here are a few tools and techniques that’ll help you do just that.

On-the-job training and workflow learning

The moment we need to do something is not only when we’re most motivated to learn something, it’s when it’s most relevant. It also means we can apply what we learn there and then, rather than reading something in theory and waiting six months to apply it.

This only works if your leadership plan provides content in the right formats. It’s no use simply replicating the knowledge overload of a text book with a 40-page PDF. What we’re getting at is microlearning. The idea of creating short-form content that guides people through particular issues.

In a leadership sense, this might be a step-by-step process for an employee performance review; specific guidance for specific challenges that helps build specific skills.

Leadership Performance Review GIF

Social learning and knowledge sharing

If you’re creating leadership content that relates specifically to a business challenge, and someone in the management team already has plenty of experience overcoming it, that should be your light bulb moment.

Your wise colleague should share their experience and knowledge with not only that teammate but all future budding leaders. A challenge in many businesses is breaking knowledge out of silos, and making it available to colleagues. Preventing them from making the same mistakes and giving guidance needed to work efficiently.

How do we know? Because we provide the solution to fast-growing companies developing their leaders! Our LXP’s Nugget feature allows people to upload their pearls of wisdom and those receiving great advice to save it for future reference, all within one central location for knowledge and learning.

Leadership Development Plan GIF

Mentoring and coaching

Some people just have a few gems to share with a developing leaders, others might do the same exact tasks in their position. In the latter cases, it might be better to pair experienced and inexperienced leaders together as mentors and mentees.

Why? Because emerging leaders are likely to encounter new challenges on a regular basis, hurdles that are business specific. Having a mentor to shadow or talk you through those situations, to review and provide feedback, is invaluable in learning fast and on the job.

Self-directed and on-demand learning

While learning from others is great, they’re not always there for a tap on the shoulder. And even as you build out that shared knowledge, it’s unlikely it’ll answer every question. So it’s important that budding leaders can find information on-demand and learn on their terms.

But what happens when new leaders waste more of their time trying to find that knowledge? Research estimates the average employee spends two hours per day searching for the information they need to do their job. Too often, the reason is that resources are scattered across a whole bunch of different platforms, storage and software.

When you create one centralised place for knowledge and resources, you remove that barrier and drive a culture of self-directed learning! For the team at HowNow, that means integrating with the course libraries and storage solutions we use every day, meaning everything is at the end of a single search.

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Group learning and training

Now, we downplayed the role of training courses at the start of this, but it’s all about using them intentionally, where they make sense. For example, sending everyone for a leading sales team course that’s relevant to only a few people will feel like a waste of time.

What if you refresh your company values and that dictates a change in leader behaviour? Maybe your full leadership squad needs to build empathy or hone their employee wellbeing approach, those are the instances where group training makes sense. Moments where everyone is working towards the same skill and has purpose for attending the training.

Doing it as a group brings that social learning element to the table too, where they can gather round one and explain how they approached or interpreted parts of the course. Whether that’s how they applied what they learnt in a real scenario or discussing concerns with people in the same boat.

Lessons from six of the best leadership development programs

Adidas: Building a 'New Leadership Framework' based around collaboration

Can you really expect people to buy into your leadership vision if they’re not seeing any part of the planning process? Possibly not! And it’s why Adidas have introduced their collaborative New Leadership Framework.

Speaking with the Top Employers Institute, Wouter Hol, Senior HR Director at Adidas Group Amsterdam, explained how they’re creating “a framework and set of behaviours we can hold ourselves accountable to” and rooting it in three core organisational culture elements: confidence, collaboration, and creativity.

And this speaks to the idea that leadership is a behaviour we build and exhibit everyday, meaning we don’t always need some formal leadership development program.

In the spirit of those values, the leadership framework wasn’t created in a top-down fashion. Instead, every level of the organisation was involved in the process, including colleagues from across the globe. Leaders have then led by example and implemented the collaborative approach in a cascading and top-down fashion.

It goes back to a principle we’ve discussed already, but leaders can only really be effective if they’ve understood how their people think, feel and want to be led. Adidas’ non-hierarchical and collaborative approach ensures that aspect is covered and offers a great takeaway for us all.

In the same interview, Hol explained a switch to the My Best performance review process. Rather than yearly reviews where the leader assesses the employee, they discuss performance at least four times each year, and it’s as much about collecting feedback on how managers are doing.

“We drive accountability for the leader, but also people have an opportunity to grow and understand that they’re working in a collaborative environment, instead of a hierarchical environment.”

Amazon Pathways: Finding and building a talent pipeline of leaders

The leaders you need tomorrow might not exist today! In fact, your business might operate in completely different ways in just a few years. This is why many companies hire or identify potential leaders based on their character and potential to step into future roles, rather than the skills or experience they currently hold.

That’s the approach Amazon has taken with their five-year Pathways Program.

“The goal of the Pathways Program is to find the best talent we can at the best schools across the world and develop them into really big leaders”, explains Steve Harman, Director, CEU Customer Fulfillment, in the opening of this video on Amazon’s Pathways Leadership Development Program.

This is an ethos that lives throughout the company and not solely within the Pathways program. Speaking about a separate Catapult initiative launched in India, Anish Mukker explained that Amazon’s goal is to “invest in professional growth of participants with an aim to build a talent pipeline of leaders.”

Over a five-year period, the program gives people the skills to step into General Manager or Director roles. And, if you read between the lines, it’s clear that Amazon is looking for potential, recognising that the skills needed change over time and that the best leaders have a solid understanding of the business at every level.

Terms like continuously improving, scaling with the business, transforming, changing work environments and even pathways itself indicate that the Amazon ethos is about evolving into the great leader they need tomorrow, not just a short-term fix for today.

“Pathways members will develop leadership skills and gain a deep knowledge of the business through a series of progressively challenging assignments across Amazon’s growing supply chain network. Pathways leaders are expected to be mobile and scale with the growth of the business, lead and develop large teams, solve problems with creative solutions, and deliver results on behalf of our customers!”

Johnson & Johnson: It’s about who you know, not just what you know!

It’s a bit of a lazy stereotype that tech-heads are dull introverts, but Johnson & Johnson’s technology leadership development plan seems to be turning that into a full-blown myth. Their description of the program makes it clear that working alongside others will turn you into a great leader at their company.

Throughout the two years, they’ll give you opportunities to be mentored, learn from others on the job, join virtual and classroom group sessions and overcome challenges in “a collaborative, supportive environment.”

Within that, there’s a culture of responsibility and autonomy. People are given a chance to take the initiative on projects and have their voices heard, which is crucial to building those relationships that make you a better leader.

Leadership Development Johnson & Johnson

Coca-Cola: Identifying your next 100 leaders

People just love ‘next 100’ lists, including Coca-Cola! They partner with Harvard Business School in “co-creating leadership experiences that transform leaders”, and it starts with identifying “the next 100” future leaders who could go all the way to C-suite.

That lucky century of potential leaders is then sent to Harvard for 12 days to learn from the best thinkers and case studies across the world. Once that bonding and in-person learning is over, they enter 13 months of blended virtual learning and strategy projects that happen on the job:

“Coca-Cola executive stewardship and sponsorship give leaders insights into the future shape of the business and hone the company’s competitive edge.”

Sadly, they don’t go into much more detail beyond that, but it does teach us the importance of recognising potential but without putting all your eggs in one basket. On paper, someone might seem a brilliant fit for a certain leadership role, and during the development process, you realise they’re a far better match to something completely different.

By starting with a larger talent pool, as Coca-Cola does, you’re better placed for this flexibility in approach. You’re also not forced to pigeonhole people into a narrow leadership path and can let them follow their curiosity. Something that appears to be consistent with the company’s learning and development ethos.

Leadership Development Coca-Cola

Dell technologies: Leveraging internal subject matter experts and focusing on delivery

If succession planning doesn’t begin with how you’ll tap into your existing leaders, you won’t get too far. A few years ago, Dell revealed how they drive career growth and leader development and explained the importance of internal experts in that process.

Firstly, they discussed how the 70/20/10 rule might look more like 50/50 in their company (an even split between training and learning from others on the job), but it was their views on topics and content that was most interesting:

“After doing analysis and scoping the project, we identify subject matter experts (SMEs) in the business to work with us to validate the objectives of the program…Once the objectives are defined, we research the topic as well as use our subject matter expert(s) to validate the content.” Jackie Wood, Consultant, Dell’s Global Leader Development team.

Another leadership development lesson comes from how Dell structures their programs. Sumati Kaushik, another consultant on the Dell team, explained two different pathways created by the tech giants. Foundations of Leadership is offered to those entering their first management role, while Jump Start helps graduates enter their first corporate roles and prepare to become future leaders.

Dominos: Recognising the right skills for your company’s leaders and promoting from within

“For us at Domino’s, great leadership is about strong communication and influencing skills, problem solving, and inspiring teams to raise their game; so far we’ve trained more than 18,000 people in these key skills.”

That’s the opinion of Simon Wallis, Chief Operating Officer, Domino’s Pizza Group, who gave the impression that these perceived leadership skills are based on what life’s like when you’re leading at Domino’s. They recently launched TeamSkills, which draws on their 30 years of experience in understanding what makes a great team leader to shape the leaders of the future.

Building learning around the pizza delivery favourites’ values and daily life is important, as they typically move people into management roles in under two years. Over 80% of managers started as pizza makers or delivery drivers and some of their most successful franchisees began in entry-level positions with few qualifications.

[fs-toc-omit]Leadership development in the hybrid working world

‘My door’s always open’ was a staple in the leadership lexicon even as recently as a few years ago. And it was probably enough back then. Between nine and five, employees knew that with a few knocks, they could have a quick chat with the leader of the pack.

The challenge today is that the pack is often distributed all over the country, continent or planet. So it’s a lot more than just oiling the hinges! The modern leader needs to create a virtual door, one that people can access on their terms, with considerations for how and where they’re working.

It’s not just a case of asking ‘how are you today?’ but where are you, what time it is over there and what’s the current situation. This all adds up to new skills for a modern leader.

The challenges of leading global, remote and hybrid teams (and how to tackle them)

Fair treatment and ensuring everyone’s included

If the bulk of the team is based in the headquarters and the rest are scattered across the globe, it can be easy for your attention and bond-forming to gravitate towards in-person charges. Modern leaders must ensure that there’s no sense of bias based on people’s location!

How to tackle it:
Think about your processes and whether they’re still structured around nine to five, in-office working. From structuring meetings where remote attendees don’t feel like an afterthought to carving out dedicated time with every employee, there’s a lot you can do! Process needs to meet culture and consider how and where people work.

Collaboration and cohesion across locations and time zones

It’s frustrating when cliches are true because we have to keep going back to them, but we really do miss those watercooler chats in the hybrid world. Whether it’s the osmosis of learning by being around colleagues or those shoulder taps asking for help, a rethink is needed for leaders of global teams.

Employees now spend about 50% more time engaged in collaborative tasks, so we need to facilitate it regardless of the challenges.

How to tackle it:
Time zones are something we can tackle first. Simply put, think more about when and how people need access to information, knowledge and the wisdom of their colleagues. If there’s not an overlap, how can you create a single place for on-demand knowledge and give people the tools to share knowledge independently (ps, we know how!).

In a similar way, what does that way of working mean for the collaboration tools and technology you need? Where are people working, and how could tech facilitate collaboration regardless of where people are working? Those are key considerations for the modern leader.

Bonus tip:
Stop scheduling everything on HQ time! Just because it’s convenient for everyone in your time zone, it might be a terrible slot for someone on the other side of the world. Try to be flexible on when you meet so that it feels convenient for everyone at some point or another.

Ensuring opinions feel heard

Bet you thought this would start on a sour note about remote employees feeling left out, they actually feel more heard than those in the office. 85% of hybrid and 84% of remote employees feel their opinions count at work, compared to 74% for their on-site counterparts.

The two challenges can be neatly summarised as the being heard balance, and we need to ask what do we do about the 14% to 26% who don’t feel heard?

How to tackle it:
Collect feedback consistently! If the process is different between on-site and remote employees, it’s no surprise that there will be a divide between how they feel. Consider collecting feedback in survey form before following up with a discussion, a process that’s repeatable regardless of location.

Understanding regional and cultural differences

If you’re leading employees all over the world, there are cultural challenges and differences to navigate. Whether that’s the relationship norms between a leader and employee, the holiday calendar, working traditions or the typical organisational hierarchies, you need to be aware and respectful as you engage with employees.

How to tackle it:
Speak to people! Whether that’s the employees themselves or through connecting with leaders in that location – try reaching out to people on LinkedIn, and you might be surprised how open and honest people are. If not, head to Google or YouTube and start searching – the only issue is that you lose that conversational element.

Creating opportunities for team building and bonding

There’s no I in team, but there is an I in virtual teams, and it’s easy to feel like that singular I when you miss out on the camaraderie. In Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Report, loneliness and collaboration were named as the biggest struggle for people working remotely. Good leaders need to create cohesion and team spirit among people who might never meet.

How to tackle it:
At HowNow, we use Slack’s Donut function to connect people for weekly coffee catch-ups, pairing people from all of our offices to chat about non-work things. It’s a chance to speak with people you might not even work with, but it’s brilliant for connecting with your teammates. Ultimately, a good leader understands which activities are a good cultural fit and steers the hybrid ship in that social direction.

Handling burnout

It might be a hangover from the office mentality of ‘first in, last out’ or hours over output, but remote and hybrid employees are more likely to report working over 50 hours each week. That’s not healthy for employees, and it’s not a great reflection on leaders – their challenge is to ensure people don’t feel overwhelmed, overworked or under pressure to put in more hours at home.

How to tackle it:
“Almost half of employees are not aware of the expectations from them in regards to availability, work productivity standards, and working hours”, so there’s clearly an awareness and clarity issue. Good leaders create freedom and flexibility for their remote employees while making it clear what’s expected of them. That’s how you set boundaries that aren’t entirely confined to a standard eight-hour window.

Providing learning and development opportunities

It’s slightly ironic that we go from discussing burnout to a study from coffee giants Nespresso, given how many frazzled home workers might have been turning to their caffeine pods.

Nespresso’s research shows that 41% believe ‘working from home means I miss out on learning and development opportunities’, and 34% agree that ‘working from home means I miss out on career development opportunities’.

How to tackle it:
Leaders need the tools and knowledge to build learning pathways that aren’t dependent on in-person, in-office or even in-the-same-country training. Why? Because 49% of people want to learn at the point of need, which we’ll never deliver if we’re stuck in these traditional shackles.

Instead, we need to create on-demand access to knowledge and incorporate that into people’s daily workflows. If all your resources live in one system, people can find them whenever they need them. If that platform integrates with the tools they already use, people can learn in the flow of work. And if you want to see how a single learning platform can do that, we’ll show you how!

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Creating purpose and setting the right objectives

It’s easy to get your head down at home, the trouble is often how long you keep it there! Not just from a neckache perspective but in the sense of tunnel vision or losing focus of the wider picture. We all want to understand how our daily tasks influence the overall success of the business.

Forward-thinking companies will connect the learning and development opportunities we mentioned above to the business’ growth. We encourage our users to think in terms of the skills needed for their company to win tomorrow and the proficiency in their team today. If development is connected to closing that gap, you’re giving people that purpose and motivation.

How to tackle it:
Here’s some advice from Wayne Turmel, co-author of The Long Distance Leader:
“One of the biggest challenges for Long-Distance Leaders is ensuring that employees understand the big picture; how their work impacts the company’s vision and that of their teammates. Then they should help create an environment where people are aware of what’s happening outside their own little bubble. What’s everyone working on? Where do their teammates need help and what resources can you offer the individual that will make it worth reaching out and building good relationships between them and the others on the team.”

How can leaders grow and flourish in hybrid settings

We already covered that employees feel like they’re missing out on development opportunities in the hybrid world, but what about budding leaders? We often forget that they’re facing the same challenges in terms of learning through osmosis or observing other managers in their natural habitats.

Leaders will often tell you how their style was influenced by taking elements from their best managers and learning not what to do from the not so good ones. Arguably, that’s a lot harder when contact time is reduced, and more virtual interactions are taking place. So, the growing leader needs to adapt their approach and find new ways of honing their skills!


Maybe it’s that all-in-it together spirit that we’ve seen over a challenging few years, but people seem really open to collaborating and conversing as we move into the hybrid world. Leaders should be encouraged to take advantage of that conversational generosity and speak with people in similar positions, industries and even those who seem like a left-field choice.

Knowledge sharing

So, what happens when that conversation comes to an end? All the wisdom you soaked up is yours and yours only…

If leaders within your company aren’t catching up in the flesh, you need to build a culture where they’re sharing their knowledge and experiences. Speaking with an industry expert might give you a great idea that fits your culture like a hand in a glove, so it’d be a shame if nobody else knew about it. By the same token, another leader in your team might have overcome the challenges you’re facing right now, and you could never know.

If there’s not already a culture for sharing knowledge in your company, start driving that today!

Mentoring and coaching

Maybe you don’t need a one-off brainstorm or tidbits from colleagues here and there, perhaps you’re someone who’d benefit from something more structured. Mentors are great sounding boards for managing ongoing relationships, they can talk you through tricky situations and help you progress over time.  

Mentoring isn’t an activity that’s dependent on you meeting someone face-to-face either, hence why it’s such an important weapon in hybrid leadership development.

Self-directed development

Mentoring might work for social learners, but what about those more introverted developers who prefer to get things straight in their own heads before putting them into practice? That’s where self-directed development comes into play, using resources and courses that can be accessed independently to grow your leadership understanding. The missing part of the puzzle is how that’s put into practice.

Join online groups and communities

Being part of a social media or Slack community of like-minded leaders is a great way to combine a little bit of everything we’ve discussed so far. You can observe how others have tackled challenges and chime in with questions of your own, seek advice on anything you’re struggling with and take their ideas into your approach. Those conversations might also give you inspiration for topics to go away and get more detail on independently.

Setting structures for a hybrid working age

We’ve alluded to it already, but unless your company structure and practices are built around the hybrid concept, it’s much harder for employees to understand your expectations of them and for leaders to communicate them effectively.

As Laura Nurski explains, the hybrid working hurdles are often thought of as bricks, bytes and behaviour. Or, in simpler terms, it’s a trio of spaces, tools and culture of remote work.

“What is missing is a fourth B, a blueprint for the allocation and coordination of tasks across time and space. While traditional organisational design deals with the question ‘who does what task?’ the hybrid model must additionally ask ‘who does what task when and where?’”

Without that blueprint, leaders are essentially being asked to do it in the dark. They lack the structure and framework to provide clarity to their charges – meaning it’s harder to measure outcomes, productivity, success, impact, happiness and a whole lot more.

Nurski’s article is titled Designing A Hybrid Work Organisation, and those five words alone highlight that it’s difficult for virtual leaders to succeed if the business isn’t one with the hybrid concept at its core. Asking them to lead hybrid style in an organisation that’s shaped around nine-to-five HQ working isn’t going to empower them to thrive.

Leadership experts to follow and fill your feed with knowledge nuggets

Your LinkedIn profile could probably be doing a lot more for you… if you’re following the right people! Rather than filling this list with the same old faces, we asked the HowNow team to share some of the best people they’re following. But that doesn’t mean you won’t see some heavy hitters in this section!

Max Altschuler, Vice President of Sales Engagement at Outreach

Find Max on LinkedIn

Max is a great follow, especially if you’re building leaders in the sales field or trying to become one yourself! From tactical advice to real-life experiences, he has a knack for sharing his advice in relatable and human ways. Here’s a great example:

Heeral Gudka, Leadership Performance Consultant and Founder Director at Convergent

Find Heeral on LinkedIn

If you’re looking for leadership advice through the lens of diversity and inclusion, Heeral is somebody you have to follow. She runs plenty of events, workshops and resources around both topics and happily shares great insights that emerge from those.

Penny Ferguson, Founder & CEO of The Living Leader

Find Penny on LinkedIn

Thousands of people all across the world have used and benefited from Penny Ferguson’s flagship development program. Through social media, she shares excellent videos that challenge how we think about and approach our personal development and leadership skills.

Rod Pearson, ACC (ICF) Coach and HR Leader at Cala Group

Find Rod on LinkedIn

If there was an award for simple bios that really sum up great leadership, Rod Pearson would win: “It’s all about people, trust, and relationships”. Between his fantastic quotes, practical tips and wonderful pictures of Fife, Scotland, there are countless reasons to follow Rod!

Robin Sharma, Leadership Missionary, Humanitarian and Bestselling Author

Find Robin on LinkedIn

So, if you’re looking for someone who posts every day, Robin Sharma might not be the right follow for you. BUT, if you’re not familiar with him, it’s absolutely worth scrolling back through his library of exceptional posts and also checking out his YouTube channel for some amazing leadership lessons.

Trevor E Hudson, Future of Work Facilitator and Wiser Leadership Coach

Find Trevor on LinkedIn

Another expert who is excellent at translating everyday experiences into amazing anecdotes with tangible takeaways. Trevor also has an excellent knack for finding and dissecting other stories to offer his opinion, a critical thinking skill that so many of us would love to develop.

Allison Pickens, Investor, Board Director, COO, Fortune Most Powerful Women community

Find Allison on LinkedIn

There are two great reasons to follow Allison! One, she’ll share brilliant events or resources and bring great knowledge to your news feed. Two, it’ll help you subscribe to her The New Normal newsletter, designed “to support the CEOs who are helping our world not just adapt to ‘the new normal’, but also create a better version of it.”

Dan Murray-Serter, Co-Founder at Heights and Host of the Secret Leaders podcast

Find Dan on LinkedIn

After investing in 50 startups, it’s no wonder Dan Murray-Serter understands what a leader needs in fast-growing companies. From podcast clips to insights from experts, he’ll add truly interesting content to your news feed.

The future of leadership development and key trends you should know

As the famous party song taught us, people love to follow the leader! So leaders have a moral responsibility to follow the trends and keep up with the ever-evolving landscape we work in.

Luckily, we broke down the four biggest leadership trends here, but we’ll give you a quick summary now, along with a few bonus ones.

Learning how to connect people with purpose

Almost two-thirds of employees said COVID caused them to reflect on their purpose in life! That’s according to a McKinsey study that also revealed half are now reconsidering the type of work they do. Over to you leaders!

It’s time to improve your prowess in giving people purpose and making their role seem like it truly makes a difference. 70% of people also stated that what they do at work defines their sense of purpose, meaning it’s never been more crucial for work to be meaningful.

McKinsey believe there are three areas influencing our sense of fulfilment:

  • Things we do outside of work, like volunteering, hobbies and caring for others.
  • Purpose from work, such as the progress on projects and the energy that gives us.
  • Purpose from the organisation, driven by the organisation’s purpose and culture.
McKinsey drivers of employee purpose

Creating career paths for people

It can be tricky to have a sense of purpose if it feels like your career is going nowhere! We’ve all heard about the Great Resignation, sparked and dominated by this Microsoft research that 41% of the workforce could leave their roles.

However, that was a Microsoft red herring because while they were predicting it might happen, voluntary turnover was already rising like a rocket taking off for space. In 2021, Glassdoor reported that the US voluntary turnover rate reached 25%, more than double the 12% reported in 2018.

Increased voluntary turnover + a craving for real purpose = leaders stepping in to provide progress opportunities.

Kayshia Kruger, Director of organisation Development at ORC, explained to us that:

“Employees want to know they have a place in their organisation and that comes with a better understanding of not only where employees can go in the company (career pathing and succession planning), but how they can grow (learning and leadership development).

“Organisations and leaders that can provide transparency and clarity around these processes will be positioned as competitive in their market.”

Shifting focus to the employee experience

If one more thing gets a ‘Great’ nickname, we’re going to rebrand ourselves as the Great LXP!  Willis Towers Watson coined the term The Great EX Awakening to describe a growing organisational focus on employee experience (EX). 92% of organisations are prioritising EX over the next three years, meaning leaders need to get better at recognising and improving daily life for their charges.

WTW driver of EX awakening

Before the pandemic, only half of companies had made employee experience a priority. Today, 81% believe it drives engagement, while wellbeing (80%), productivity (79%) and performance weren’t far behind in this list of EX benefits.

So, what’s the secret to EX success? According to the WTW study, having senior leaders who set out and communicate their strategies effectively. Clarity around the company’s objectives, and therefore someone’s role in reaching them, is unsurprisingly another lever leaders can pull. And it’s why communication skills have to be part of your leadership development programs.

Cultures of adaptability and change management

“We have to let go of the need to plan from A to Z and learn to be okay with planning from A to B.”, that’s the view of Laurie Leinwand, a licensed professional counsellor and one that feels very apt given the changes of recent years.

The bottom line is that in times of drastic change, it’s those who respond fastest that come out on top! As we like to say, the fastest learner wins. However, it’s hard for people to become the fastest learners if your leaders aren’t reactive to change and there’s no company culture for adaptability.

Keith Keating believes that adaptable leaders have three traits:

  • Flexible ways of thinking, meaning they can tap into different mental frameworks and strategies.
  • They build multiple plans for reaching goals and aren’t wedded to a single approach.
  • Curious minds that allow them to absorb the opinions of others and use those in their reactive responses.

Finding ways to avoid burnout

Leaders facing burnout are more likely to leave, and leaders feeling burned out are less likely to lead effectively! DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021 revealed two interesting statistics about managers who are feeling the heat.

  • 26% of burned out leaders said they plan to leave in the next year, compared to just 6% of their calm counterparts.
  • While 44% of those with burnout expect to change companies if they’re going to advance, compared to just 24% of other leaders.

Now, we’ve not been on many ships, but we doubt frazzled captains who always seemed stressed at the helm would have steered their crew very well. How are we going to expect leaders in our workplaces to drive teams effectively if they’re feeling on the brink of burning out?

The answer? Empathy! The DDI report explained that managing company-wide burnout is directly linked to the ability to empathise. However, only 18% of leaders felt confident in their ability to help team members avoid burnout.

“The number-one factor that influences burnout is leaders’ ability to demonstrate empathy—connecting with their teams on a more human level. While leaders typically rate themselves well on showing empathy, we saw leaders’ self-ratings of empathy drop 15% during the pandemic.

“This drop showed that as leaders are under stress, many of them struggle to show empathy, even though these are moments when their team members need it most.”

Meet HowNow, the perfect home for all your leadership development activities

Let’s recap! We know what makes a great leader and what making a great leader looks like. Personalised pathways, built to fit your business and culture. Repeating the process of spotting and building skills or potential, and using data to make informed decisions as you do it all.

All that’s left to do is find the right platform for doing everything we’ve discussed so far…

Let us show you around HowNow, the LXP for fast-growing companies that need to develop great leaders at speed.

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