How to Establish a Leadership Development Program

August 25, 2011 by  Filed under: Management 

Getting a leadership development program established in any organization is tall order. This is especially true if you are starting from scratch. While some people will naturally become champions, more often people will be either neutral or even skeptical about such an initiative. Not until you can start to demonstrate results will you be able to get this embedded into the culture. Thus, be prepared for a long-term effort. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

Executive commitment at the top: Most CEO’s, when asked, will normally acknowledge that people are one of their most important assets. Surprisingly, many of them don’t spend much time on “people” management or “talent” management as it is commonly called in larger organizations. However, if you look at any current survey of companies that are known to be great at leadership development, the CEO’s at every one of them spend a considerable amount of time on talent management – often as much as 30 percent of their time. So if you are looking to launch a leadership development program, perhaps the most important thing to do first is to get executive commitment right from the top, the CEO. He or she will need to commit a substantial amount of their time to the effort. Without a serious commitment from your CEO, you will not succeed.

Get executive support for a steering committee: When the CEO commits, then ask him or her to sponsor a steering committee. The committee might include several other executives and perhaps some high-potential middle managers. While it is ok to have someone from HR on the committee, it is most important that the committee not be dominated by HR types. This should be a committee of primarily line managers who are key influencers within the organization. They need to be the “champions” who will sell this as a management led initiative rather than just another “HR program.”

Research your organization’s needs: Try to define the organization’s needs. Identify the key positions and what the future needs will be for filling them. If you have not identified them before, then start with those positions that are direct reports to the CEO and one level down. Identify you high potential people, and try to gather some basic information about them. So, you might think of this in the same way as you might think of a supply and demand analysis where the demand represents your current and future needs while the supply is measured in terms of your “bench strength,” the pool of available candidates.

Research the best practices: If you are just starting a leadership development program, then get the steering committee spend some time researching best practices. Since these people will be your best program “champions” then it only makes sense that they are well informed about current best practices. Lots of information is easily found on the Internet. You might do some site visits to other companies in your local area, or even speak to leadership development managers at some of the leading companies by conference call. Most of them would be happy to spend an hour on the phone to share best practices. Alternatively, you can attend some industry or national best practices conferences. These are usually held in various locations around the country and you can attend by simply paying a modest conference fee. When you get insights on best practices from other companies, it will add to the credibility of your recommendations when you pitch them to the CEO for approval. You can act with confidence since you will have done your homework.

Start with a few key initiatives that have the most support and build from there: As you research the best practices, decide which ones would benefit your company the most. Picking a few key initiatives and doing them well will help to build the foundation for your program. Once you have a foundation, then you can build from there. Alternatively, if you start with a big program with many initiatives, then it just might fail of its own weight. So, be realistic, don’t oversell the program, and get support for a few important initiatives that have the best chance of success. A good leadership development program is a long-term commitment, and you need to think about it that way.

These are just a few ideas to get started on a leadership development program within your organization. Although you may be the driver behind the program, just remember that this is primarily a “team” effort. You will need to gain the support of others within the organization as well as a primary commitment from your CEO. If you follow these suggestions, you will more likely get off to a good start.

Leonard Kloeber is an author and leadership consultant. He has extensive leadership experience as business executive and as a military officer. He has been a hands-on leader in a variety of organizations large and small. Most recently he was a human resources executive for a Fortune 100 company. His book – Victory Principles, Leadership Lessons from D-Day – illustrates seven bedrock leadership principles that all successful leaders use. Download a free summary of the Victory Principles at: and find other bonus materials for leaders. Contact him at or find his book Victory Principles at

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