How to Improve Your Leadership Development Program

BY C. Lee Smith
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Businesses rely on their leadership teams to establish company policy and set direction. Ideally, leaders should also set an example for all employees on expected work output and behavior. Unfortunately, the typical leadership development program does not cover these topics.

How to Improve Your Leadership Development Program

An analysis of employee satisfaction produced by Glassdoor earlier this year found that culture and values (18.4%) and senior leadership (17.6%) matter. Team members want to enjoy a supportive work culture. But they also want to work for effective and transparent leaders.

How are CEOs doing on that front? In our 2023 American State of Credibility Survey, 21% of full-​time employees stated their CEO is very credible. Another 33% said the CEO is somewhat credible.

Those numbers could use some improvement. They may be linked to recent research findings published by the Josh Bersin Company. Specifically, the research exposed general unhappiness with leadership teams.

The company’s findings also uncovered what has been happening to the typical leadership development program. During the pandemic, organizations slashed spending. In over 50% of surveyed businesses, spending on leadership development amounts to only $500 a year.

A Focus on Soft Skills

While leaders may be excelling in identifying new revenue opportunities, they are lacking in soft skills. Jonathan Raymond, Head of Credible Leaders and Manage Smarter show guest, explains. He points out that leaders don’t always understand the impact their authority is having on the performance of others.

However, it is not enough for a company with an executive leadership development program to announce goals and expect employees to follow along. Some employees won’t understand the goals. Or they may not understand their role in the process of meeting these goals.

This situation is a classic setup for being unmotivated and disengaged. One solution to this problem is for leaders to develop empathy for their team members’ situations. Employees want their leaders to understand and care about them. 

To make that happen, empathy should be a core part of a leadership development program. Not every individual possesses sufficient empathy. In some cases, they will struggle with the best way to show that they care about employees. But this skill can be developed. 

A comprehensive psychometric assessment will score individuals on their empathy levels. With that information, leaders can learn how to engage with employees.

Learning How to Listen

One effective way to increase empathy is learning to listen. Leaders hear what employees tell them. But they don’t always listen for understanding.

If an employee states that they can’t work late on a particulate evening, a leader who hasn't been part of a leadership development program may automatically assume the team member isn’t engaged. In truth, the employee may be struggling with a personal matter.

If they need to pick up a child from an after-​school event, they will feel torn between work and personal commitments. When this dilemma happens on a regular basis, the employee may decide their boss doesn’t care.

Instead of pressuring employees, leaders must get to know each individual and what they are experiencing. The era of command and control as a form of leadership is over, says Jonathan Raymond. Businesses still need a hierarchy. 

More experienced individuals may belong in a position of leadership to guide operations to positive outcomes.

However, businesses can’t neglect the need for a leadership development program that emphasizes soft skills. When corporate leaders demonstrate empathy and good listening skills, they can count on having a more engaged and motivated workforce.

Personalized Enrichment

While some of your leadership development training can be generalized, personalization is a must. Every potential leader has strengths and weaknesses. They will benefit most from a program that targets their weaknesses.

Whether learning to be self-​aware or becoming better delegators, your leaders aren’t the only ones who will benefit. A personalized leadership development program will improve the outcomes for your entire workforce.

Photo on Pexels by Tima Miroshnichenko