Creating a Leadership Development Program That Actually Creates Leaders

The Leadership Development Program (LDP): Many companies have them 1 For the record, I’m referring to rotational LDP programs as opposed to LDPs designed around seminars and workshops. The latter can be value-added (or not) as well but are outside the scope of today’s post – and with good1.

A good leadership development program can be a great talent pipeline for future managers and executives.

For the record, I’m referring to rotational LDP programs as opposed to LDPs designed around seminars and workshops. The latter can be value-added (or not) as well, but are outside the scope of today’s post.reason. Theoretically, developing high potential employees early in their careers is a great way to build a talent pipeline of future supervisors, managers, and executives.

In practice, however, many of these efforts fail. Often they either don’t effectively cultivate the talent that participates in them or else they do a good job of developing incumbents but don’t retain them upon program completion.

We can tackle the topic of retention post program another day, 2 but today I want to briefly touch on three characteristics that I believe are critical components of any successful LDP.

1. Buy-in from management

A good relationship between an LDP and his/her manager is critical to ensure the incumbent gets the critical experiences necessary to make the assignment a success.

This is perhaps the most important component of all in an LDP. In most leadership development programs, the incumbents don’t bring a lot of noteworthy skills to the table. Instead, they are primarily considered high potential due to either exceptional performance in a prior role with the company, or (if they are recent grads) their educational pedigree.

In either case, it’s imperative that the LDP incumbent(s) work closely with managers committed to ensuring they get the critical experiences and training necessary to put them in a position to add value to the organization post-program.

Ultimately, if program participants are paired with managers who don’t buy-in to the program (or worse feel threatened by the incumbents) then said participants won’t get the critical experiences needed to make their rotational assignment(s) a success.

2. Meaningful work (stretch assignments)

Just as important here is meaningful work. Often times in LDP programs, a manager/team may not want to invest significant time and resources into someone whom they perceive to be a temporary (rather than permanent) fixture.

We learn by doing.


In order to ensure an LDP participant gets meaningful work, the assignment has to be long enough for the team training the LDP to get some ROIC from training him/her. The incumbent also needs time to learn the role so that he/she can become a strong contributor to the group. Most human beings learn by doing, and the only way an incumbent can get experience doing meaningful work (without being a liability) is by spending enough time in a role to develop into a strong contributor.

3. Clearly defined goals

To this point, moving LDP participants into roles without structure around the assignment’s goals can lead to program incumbents feeling aimless. A good LDP should have a clearly defined set of experiences and competencies for participants to get/develop during the assignment.

As someone who is actually in a pretty good leadership development program right now, I feel pretty as if I have a unique insight into what makes a good LDP, but as always I don’t have all the answers.



Categories: Talent Management