Leadership Development 101: How to Develop New and Existing Leaders

Sam Cook


Leadership Development 101: How to Develop New and Existing Leaders

Every organization needs leaders but finding the right ones can be difficult. Hiring externally is one route, but it’s not without risks. Hiring externally for leadership positions often sows discontent and can increase the risk of turnover. The most effective route to finding the right leaders is internal leadership development programs. By identifying, training, and then uplifting future leaders from within your own organization, you can increase morale, maintain the cohesiveness of your teams, and importantly, keep the knowledge and experience your team members have gained from walking out the door to competitors. 

What Is Leadership Development?

The meaning of leadership development can vary depending on the content. For some organizations, leadership development, succession planning, and high potential talent development involve training high-potential employees to step into leadership roles. By helping them gain the proper leadership skills, they’ll be prepared to succeed as managers, directors, or senior executives. 

However, leadership development is not limited to just high potentials or emerging leaders who are primed for future leadership roles. It’s also an essential strategy for existing leaders. The best way to view leadership development is to consider the skills development of any individual who may be a leader at some point, or who is currently a leader right now. Regardless of position, all workers have something to learn — even the CEO.

Group meeting around a table for leadership development.

Why Is Leadership Development Important?

Leaders help keep teams organized and on track. They ensure deadlines are met, help establish the direction of the department or team, and can more effectively bring out the best in the people they lead. In fact, a 2019 study found great leaders can double profits. The opposite is also true. Bad (or even toxic) leaders can lead directly to higher employee turnover and ultimately result in lost revenue. 

According to Udemy:

  • 51% of Millennials and Gen Z workers quit because of bad managers
  • 60% of all workers believe managers need more leadership development
  • 52% of Gen X and Boomer workers, and 62% of Millennial workers, believe that companies promote too quickly

This all points strongly to a recognition that leadership development is important both before and after workers are promoted to leadership positions. 

What to Consider Before Creating Leadership Development Programs

Cartoon woman placing a flag on a hill for leadership development.

Leadership development is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That said, consistency in your approach is important. If you want to develop your leaders the right way, you’ll need to consider some or all of the following:

  • What skills are important for leaders at your organization?
  • Are there any individuals in your organization who already have those skills?
  • Are there individuals within your organization who would benefit from learning or developing the leadership skills you’ve identified?
  • How long should leadership development take?
  • How many new leaders or reskilled leaders will you need?
  • How soon will you need those leaders? (3-6 months, 1 year, 3-5 years?)
  • When will new leaders be necessary?
  • If developing existing leaders, when will their new skill sets be necessary?

Don’t have all the answers? That’s OK! There’s nothing wrong with starting the planning process before you have all the information you need. The most important step in the process is laying the groundwork by answering as many questions as you can about your organization’s leadership development needs. From there, you can create the programmatic framework that will help you craft the type of leadership development programs that make the most sense for your business. 

How Is Leadership Developed?

How you develop your leaders will depend on a few factors:

  1. What functions or departments will need leadership development?
  2. Are you training new leaders, or developing existing ones?
  3. Does your organization have internal knowledge that can be leveraged for leadership development, or will you need outside help?
  4. Is your company in-person, fully remote, or hybrid?

Let’s take a look at some answers to all of these questions.

Leadership development zoom meeting with coffee.

Question 1: What functions or departments will need leadership development?

This is exceptionally important to consider. Although there are a core set of leadership skills that are important for every role, the function or department where leaders are nave unique needs. For example, maybe your sales team is growing rapidly. You may need to create a leadership development program targeted specifically for sales. The structure of that leadership development program and the type of training those leaders receive might be vastly different than a leadership program for your organization’s development team. 

Common leadership skills you may need to help develop include:

  • Communication skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Goal setting and planning
  • Organizational skills
  • Patience
  • Flexibility
As well, you’ll need to plan around the specific needs for different functions. In sales, managers often need to be skilled at presenting and disseminating information, data analysis, and mentoring or coaching. For product development leaders, skills in technical writing, UX, and market research may be necessary. Quite often, workers you promote from within may have many of the skills you already need but could use further refinement of those skills as their application will differ when applied through the lens of management.  Understand the exact needs of the function or department where leaders will go first, then consider how to best develop those leaders to suit that area. Given most leaders serve a specific, functional role, you may opt for multiple leadership development programs and tracks that go from broad to functionally specific. 
Blue flow chart for leadership development planning.

Question 2: Are you training new leaders or developing existing ones?

Where your potential leaders are in their level of experience matters. New leaders may need far more training than experienced ones. Additionally, if you’re uplifting an experienced team member, he or she may have the functional knowledge necessary for the role, but need some development managing teams. Conversely, if an existing leader is switching from one department to another, that individual may require development to help learn the ins and outs of that functional area. That could mean being paired with a more junior-level team member to learn the ropes.  

As you can see, both instances would be considered “leadership development”, but from a different perspective. This is why it’s important to consider the unique needs of each individual, as well as the more common needs of the teams over which those leaders will be serving. 

Question 3: Does your organization have internal knowledge available for leadership development?

Assess the knowledge landscape within your organization. Are there individuals who have the skills you need for your leadership development? Are they available to use those skills to help train high-potential candidates and existing leaders, as needed? Additionally, does your organization have the structures in place to quickly identify and pair individuals into those types of learning arrangements?
If the answer to most of these is no, then you may need to seek outside help to train your teams. There’s nothing wrong with getting outside help for any or even all aspects of leadership development. It’s better to seek that route than to allow teams to fall into chaos without a leader present. 
image 16

Question 4: Is your company in-person, fully remote, or hybrid?

How and where your organization meets can impact the type of leadership development program that makes the most sense. A good example is to examine the differing needs between software companies and energy companies. 

Most software companies have workers who are either fully-remote or operating on a hybrid-remote working model. Since the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, most software companies’ teams have met virtually. Over 90% of software developers want to continue having remote work flexibility, according to a 2021 Commit survey. As such, the leadership programs for those types of teams should emphasize virtual flexibility.

Cartoon zoom meeting on leadership development.
An energy company, however, may need leaders who are quite often on-the-ground and working in-person on job sites. That may necessitate leadership training programs that are also in-person or at the least, operated with a hybrid approach. 
Your organization’s unique needs could be more in line with a software company, or closer to an energy company (or somewhere between the two). Consider what works best for the needs of your organization and the unique needs of the team where leaders are needed before considering what format the leadership development program will take. 

Mentoring Makes Developing Leadership Skills Simple

There are two truths about leadership development upon which most people will agree:

  1. The best leaders come from within your organization
  2. The best people to help develop your leaders also come from within your organization

From a gardening perspective, this would be considered self-propagation. As horticulturalist David Domoney writes on his website about self-propagating plants,

 “If you want a fuss-free garden, you can leave the plants to their own devices as they require little intervention. If you leave them to bloom and set seed, these prolific varieties will fill every potential patch in the garden…”

Using mentoring as your go-to leadership development strategy is essentially taking the path of least resistance with the highest ultimate impact on propagating desired leadership skills. By establishing the framework and giving your people the right tools, leadership skills within your organization become easier to share, exactly the way your organization needs.

It’s no wonder 84% of US Fortune 500 companies and 100% of the US Fortune 50 companies use mentoring programs. And most turn to mentoring software to match participants and streamline the mentoring process at scale.

Don’t let your leadership development needs stall out. Schedule a demo to learn why companies like Bacardi, Disney, Cardinal Health, and more have turned to MentorcliQ’s mentoring software to identify, match, and develop leaders.

Sam Cook

An email you’ll actually love

Get expert tips and techniques about Leadership Development 101: How to Develop New and Existing Leaders.

Sent once per month. Containing valuable content.

Subscribe to the newsletter