• Edwin and George

Assessing Leadership Development Strategy – Seven Key Areas


It’s clear that companies struggle with all forms of leadership development.

The issue is consistently raised by HR professionals who participate in the Human Capital trends research published each year by Deloitte. For 2016, almost a third of all respondents reported ‘weak’ or ‘very weak’ leadership pipelines. Other findings of the 2016 Deloitte report are:

  • Only 7 percent of companies believe they are “excellent” at building Millennial leaders

  • Only 13 percent of companies report they are “excellent” at building global leaders

  • Only 14 percent of companies surveyed described themselves as “strong” at succession planning throughout the business.


The report authors recommend that companies ‘take a fresh, hard look at their leadership development strategy. Many companies find that this is the best place to start. Nearly two in three of respondents say that they have updated their leadership development strategy in the last year or are currently doing so. Perhaps of most importance is that this gives the opportunity to challenge the current strategy: Is it delivering the impact, results, leadership pipeline and calibre of leaders the business needs now and in the future?’

Reviewing the whole leadership development strategy of an organisation can be a huge task. A good place for any review is to start, however, is to look at the approach towards newly appointed leaders in first line positions; those people who haven’t held leadership positions previously. If good practices are in place at this level, there will be a decent foundation for other leadership development activities.

Here is a framework based on the work of the leading writer on leadership, John Adair, in his book ‘How to Grow Leaders.’ It can be used by senior managers to assess where they can improve their approach to leadership development at first line level.

  1. Selection – clear and consistent selection processes. Take extra steps with external candidates. Measure results over time and identify where improvements in selection processes can be made. By all means judge against competencies – but keep the list brief and relevant. Make sure those involved in the selection process rate consistently.

  2. Initial training for leadership – possibly a day or two outside the work environment – concentrate on soft skills, something about the company culture and aspirations, communication techniques, handling conflict, performance management. Not technical skills which are typically learnt on the job especially for those who are promoted internally.

  3. Mentoring – but not with someone outside the organisation or someone at the same level. Senior people in the company make excellent mentors because they have been through similar situations and can offer advice and smooth things over within the organisation.

  4. The chance to lead – give first line leaders early responsibility and challenge outside their immediate normal duties. Possibly working on a project team or deputising for a more senior manager.

  5. Education for leadership – some form of formal education as the person progresses in their role, for example a leadership or management qualification; ideally involving people from other organisations or walks of life.

  6. A strategy for leadership development – an understanding across the management of the organisation of the approach to leadership development. Ensure the strategy is reviewed on a regular basis; for example, is this working and where can we improve? Are we seeing strong leaders coming through?

  7. CEO walking the talk – lead by example, stress the importance of leadership development, have time for colleagues on their development path and attend training by giving an introduction to the session. Additionally, take the opportunity to speak about leadership development at meetings or staff events.

If these steps are in place, the organisation will have gone some way in implementing a successful approach to this critically important area of the business.


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