Leadership Development Guide | Thomas.co

Leadership development is a process carried out by organisations that prepare individuals to take on key leadership roles through a structured training process, often involving a wide range of learning activities. Key leadership competencies are defined, potential candidates are selected, and then a comprehensive process aimed at honing their abilities begins.

Understanding leadership development 

The concept of leadership development stems from organisations wanting to be proactive in the cultivation of effective leaders. Through identifying and nurturing the talents of internal prospects, organisations can guide their development and end up with a pipeline of talent adequately prepared for the specific challenges of that industry and organisation.

Strong leaders create an extremely positive work environment, where employees have a true sense of value and direction. Strong decision-makers with the ability to communicate effectively lead to faster decisions, better buy-in from employees, and overall organisational success. Also, the introduction of a robust leadership development programme serves as a fantastic method of employee retention. When employees see that your organisation is willing to invest in their development and career progression, they’re much more likely to stay.

Key elements of effective leadership development

To implement an effective leadership development programme, you first have to outline what the key competencies are for a leader in your organisation. Prospective leaders need to be strong communicators with a high level of emotional intelligence to effectively manage diverse groups of employees. They should also be high-level strategic thinkers with the ability to adapt and improvise when necessary. This will allow them to deal with adversity and navigate your organisation through more difficult moments.

Once you’ve outlined the core competencies of your leaders, it’s important to conduct a thorough assessment of the existing leadership talent in your organisation. Identify their strengths, weaknesses, and potential areas for development. In doing this, you create a framework for future leaders to aspire to, while also allowing you to begin planning out the development process for future leaders with these qualities in mind. A combination of methods should be used to conduct this assessment, with regular performance evaluations and 360-degree feedback sessions both excellent places to begin.

Your overarching strategy is key to ensuring a successful leadership development programme. It should directly align with your organisation’s strategic objectives, consider the individual developmental needs of each participant, and mesh seamlessly with the wider succession planning process of your organisation. The interconnectedness between leadership development and succession planning can’t be understated. 

Look to integrate technology into the process early to help reduce the resource requirements of your organisation. E-learning platforms, virtual training, and even digital leadership development platforms can all streamline and simplify the process. Technology enables leadership development training to become asynchronous, providing a massive amount of flexibility to both your employees and the wider organisation alike. This will give a significant boost to engagement levels. 

Best practices for implementing leadership development programmes

1. Identify leadership needs and objectives

A needs analysis of the skills, competencies, and desired behaviours of your leaders is an essential early step. Care should be given to ensure that the goals and strategic direction of the organisation are reflected in these areas.

2. Generate buy-in from senior leadership

When engaging with leadership, focus on the potential return on investment of initiating the programme, the advantages to developing internal talent as opposed to always hiring from the outside, and the time and cost-saving benefits the programme will bring over the long term.

3. Create a comprehensive leadership training curriculum

A mixed-methods learning model is recommended to ensure all types of learners have the opportunity to develop. Consider utilising a mix of workshops, simulated training experiences, bespoke coaching sessions, and project work to provide the best learning experience. Adequate resourcing is key.

4. Provide ongoing coaching and mentoring opportunities

Mentoring and coaching from experienced employees or field experts allow your future leaders to garner continuous feedback across the entire development process. This is invaluable in allowing them to ask questions, while also providing role-specific knowledge sharing that will accelerate their growth.

5. Promote a culture of continuous learning 

If you can instil the concept of continuous growth across your organisation, the return on investment of leadership development programmes will skyrocket. Enrollment in the programme will begin to act as a catalyst for professional development that will lead to more well-rounded employees and a strong culture built around success.

Overcoming challenges in leadership development

Scepticism of resistance to change — particularly from senior leadership — can be an extremely difficult challenge to overcome. If you can effectively communicate the benefits, show clear evidence from case studies, and involve these leaders in the process early, you’re much more likely to convince them to buy in.

Managing resources can also be a challenge. Employees still have their daily duties to see to on top of this kind of development. It’s important to engage in conversations early to make it clear how they should be spending their time. Also consider utilising technology to provide flexible learning opportunities, or integrate some of the learning into existing workflows to offset time loss.

This can be made even more difficult considering the rise in remote and hybrid work policies, however, the answer remains the same. A virtual approach where material can be accessed at any time will offer employees a greater chance to engage. It’s also important to try and maintain some sort of connection with them as they undergo this development, so make the time to engage in one-to-one or small group sessions.

Emerging trends in leadership development

Leadership development is constantly evolving. Technology is one of the biggest agents of change in the area, with the importance of digital skills at an all-time high. Leadership development programs will likely need to pivot to ensure that areas such as digital literacy and leading in a virtual environment are concentrated on more.

There is also growing importance in the role that diversity, equity, and inclusion place in leadership development. Future leaders will need to be equipped to manage massively diverse teams, as the globalisation of workforces continues. Of course, this will also lead to more diverse leadership teams, decreasing biases in areas such as decision-making and hiring.

Finally, leaders will need to adopt the mindset of continuous growth and development. Similarly to technology, the business landscape itself is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. Leaders who don’t commit to learning and upskilling across the entirety of their careers will be surpassed by those who continue to grow. This will also be reflected in the teams they lead. Those who embrace a growth mindset will likely instil this in their teams, leading to increased innovation and a culture of curiosity.


Leadership development is a vital component in the succession planning of any successful organisation, but it’s often not given the attention it truly requires. Developing a robust leadership programme will serve to attract better talent, and build a strong internal leadership pipeline; leaving your organisation in an extremely enviable position going forward.

By following the best practices outlined here, you can begin to reap the benefits of quality leadership development and future-proof the leadership of your organisation.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, why not request a demo of our leadership development platform? Let us take the hard work out of the equation for you, leaving you to focus on the things that truly matter.