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Talent Assessment | 4 Min Read

Top Leadership Development Best Practices in 2020


A company’s leadership determines its success to a great extent. Most organizations struggle to create and sustain a strong leadership team. More than 80% of organizations are faced with a leadership talent shortage. Most of the present leaders are either baby boomers (~50%) who are on the verge of retiring or millennials who do not plan to stay in one job for more than three years.

One of the biggest reasons why we are faced with a leadership talent shortage is the high retirement rate of baby boomers and not enough millennials stepping up to take the leadership positions, owing to a stated feeling of not feeling prepared.

Jeff Orr
TEDx speaker, Founder of InDemand Leadership

Organizations need a continuous supply of capable and dependable leaders that can take the place of the retiring baby boomers and find a way to retain and develop the millennial leaders.

Companies are constantly on the lookout for new leaders for multiple reasons. The most common reasons being- the old leaders are about to retire, or a brand-new leadership position has been created and needs to be filled with the right talent. There are two ways to fill these leadership positions- hire new talent from outside or develop existing employees to take up the available leadership positions.

As discussed in report Leadership Hiring Trends 2019, hiring leaders from outside is complicated. Leadership hiring is an extremely time and cost-intensive endeavor and the chances of finding the right talent is low as majority of quality leadership talent is already employed elsewhere. Developing existing employees to take up leadership positions is the most risk evasive path to building a strong and future-ready leadership team.

Let us have a look at the most prevalent practices in leadership development that are being practiced by successful organizations globally.

Leadership Development Best Practices

To achieve leadership success, organizations need to identify and overcome the bottlenecks that they face when carrying out leadership development. The best practices that we include here are potential solutions to the most commonly encountered challenges when carrying out leadership development.


Leadership development today is a lot more challenging than it used to be. Leaders are expected to deliver more in less time. They are also expected to have a continuously evolving skill-set to meet the changing market demands. A majority of global leaders consider themselves unprepared for their new roles as they have either not received any leadership training or the training that they have received failed to positively impact their work performance.

Experience in helping organizations select candidates for special advance management training has taught me the advanced management development is given more as a reward with low expectations as to any developmental increases that occur for that executive or manager.

Jerry Kaber
President of The Strategic Alliance Group

Conduct Competency-Based Leadership Development

To create great leaders, organizations must be aware of the kind of leaders they want. They need to be aware of the skills that they want their leaders to have and the type of leadership style that will help them lead their teams better.

1. Defining a Leadership Competency Framework

What Competencies to Develop: We asked organizations – what key attributes of leaders are responsible for them becoming successful at their organization (Chart 9). We found out that the ability to lead business growth, followed by the ability to lead people is the most significant leadership attribute that can help leaders become successful in driving organizational and people growth.


Once organizations are clear on what attributes of a leader are most crucial for their success, they can focus on developing those attributes in their upcoming and existing leaders. Each leadership attribute corresponds to specific competencies. By developing those competencies, organizations can help hone these key attributes in their leaders.

The Mercer | Mettl Leadership Competency Framework throws light on the critical competencies that leaders must have to develop the leadership attributes which are needed to be successful.


2. Benefits of Having a Competency-Based Leadership Development Process

The kind of leaders that an organization wants differs from job role to job role. Organizations need to have a ready competency framework for each leadership position that will guide them in training and developing leaders for that role. The competency framework should include skills that the previous position holders had, updated to reflect the changing job responsibilities in the present and future.

It’s essential to have an organizational competency framework as the skills required to succeed in a leadership role is very different from that needed to succeed in an individual contributor role. Leaders need to be trained on these new skills to equip them with the abilities required to take care of their continuously evolving job responsibilities.

Generally, the skills that make individual performers successful, like being competitive, a desire to win (often against others), and enjoyment of the spotlight are the opposite of what leaders need to demonstrate. Leadership is such a different role. Hard-earned skills like humility, abundance, mediation, empathic listening, patience ─ the list seems endless ─ are needed to become a respected and influential leader. Groom leaders early on in their careers and explain to high potentials that the skills that they view as making them successful, won’t necessarily be the skills that will make them an effective leader.

Scott Miller
CMO at FranklinCovey

A competency-based leadership development program has a much higher chance of achieving its desired objective than generic programs. Our study reveals that Leadership success rate and competency framework adoption rate is highly positively correlated. This means companies that base their leadership hiring and development methodology on competency frameworks experience a much higher leadership success rate.

Companies with leadership competency framework are more likely to have successful leaders


3. How to Assess Leadership Competencies?

Having an accurate and regularly updated competency framework is the first step towards creating successful leadership development programs. The next step is to find a method to assess leaders to find out where they stand in terms of these competencies- what competencies are they proficient in and what competencies they need to develop further. It’s crucial to accurately assess the strengths and development areas of each leader so that they can be trained accordingly. Modern scientific talent assessment tools offer an accurate way to assess training needs in leaders.

Validated assessment instruments that measure potential for top performance at the level of the job are the best tools an organization can use to identify training needs in leaders.

Kim Turnage
Director & Leadership Consultant at Talent Plus

Competency-based talent assessment tools such as 360-degree feedback, assessment centers, and leadership assessments allow organizations to identify and develop present and future leaders in a much more effective manner. Assessment tools that are customized for each organization, job role, job level and bench-marked to meet organizational & industry standards produce much more accurate results.

The organizations I've worked with have expanded the talent pool beyond the senior manager level by creating leadership development programs for next-generation leaders according to their experience and seniority. Relying on multiple sources of data gleaned from 360-degree instruments, self and manager assessments, panel review to assess talent globally throughout the organization, and focus on identifying and building relevant capabilities, allows organizations to develop leaders that contribute disproportionately to the bottom-line.

Susan Gilell-Stuy
Managing Principal at Susan Gilell-Stuy LLC


Optimize Time and Cost

In the past decades, when spending one’s entire career of 30-40 years working at a single company was the norm, it made sense for companies to invest in their development extensively. The working population of today, which consists majorly of millennial workers (~48% of the workforce presently, which will increase to 75% by 2020, according to Forbes), believes in changing jobs every 18 months. This leaves companies with very less incentive to invest in their development to prepare them for leadership roles in the future. Less than 50% of organizations are willing to invest in the development of their employees, mostly because of the cost and time-intensive nature of these programs, followed by their low ROI.

Our survey showed that leadership development program duration and leadership success rate are highly inversely correlated (-68%). Higher the leadership development process duration, lower the organizational leadership success rate.


How to Optimize Leadership Development Time and Cost?

The best way to reduce leadership development duration and cost and more make it more effective is by structuring it properly. Customized competency-based talent assessment tools help in accurate identification of individual training needs and provide data-backed insights on what skills each leader needs to be trained on. This makes the training more streamlined, enabling the creation of a more structured leadership development process that is shorter in duration, less expensive, and much more effective.

Cherita Weatherspoon from Spoonfed Motivation agrees- “While it’s easier to use pre-fab leadership assessments, I caution organizations against doing that. It’s much more important to determine what the needs are for a particular role at that time than it is to determine if a candidate meets a certain set of predetermined criteria.”

When the leadership development process is customized to address individual development needs, instead of being generic, the efforts are more targeted and the results more favorable.

Leadership development should be highly customized for the outcome desired by the organization. 

Jessica Prater
Founder of J. Prater Consulting


Collaborate with Leaders and Trainees

There needs to be a synergy between the existing leaders and new leaders for an organization to have a truly successful leadership that works together to promote organizational growth and productivity. Organizations that involve senior leaders in the leadership development process have a higher leadership success rate than organizations that do not follow this practice.

The leadership talent pool presently consists of millennials and baby boomers. The generation gap between these two causes a lot of conflict in organizational leadership, causing it to suffer in terms of performance delivery.

Organizations wanting to develop and train up their younger leaders are discovering a relational disconnect between Boomers and Millennials. In general, Boomers aren’t understanding their younger counterparts in their work style, work ethic, or communication style. The frustration widens the gap as the leadership focus for Boomers has been on honing their skills in critical thinking, stakeholder management, business management, and global/cultural acumen. Millennial leaders are instead focusing on skills involving leadership impact and interpersonal skills.

Jeff Orr
Founder of InDemand Leadership

Involving the present leaders in the leadership development process can help bridge this gap by developing the skills in new leaders that have been known to be extremely relevant in driving performance historically, along with new skills that are needed to take care of changing organizational requirements.

Our study shows that the leadership success rate is maximum when HRs work along with Senior Leaders and Trainees (new, existing, and upcoming leaders) to plan and execute leadership development:

  • CXOs are involved in defining the leadership competency framework based on which leaders are hired, trained, and developed. They are in the best position to decide what skills are needed in each leadership role currently and in the future. Their involvement can enable the creation of a future-ready leadership team in the organization.

  • HRs are responsible for planning and executing leadership development programs by identifying who to train, what to train and how to train.

  • Trainees contribute by actively participating in training need identification process. They are the best judge of their own as well as their peers’ areas of development.


To Summarize

For a leadership development program to be successful in creating a strong leadership team, it needs to be practical in terms of the time and cost investment required to execute it. Leadership development programs that are very expensive and lengthy, often fail as both the organization and the participating leaders feel that the effort is not worth the outcome. Leadership development programs often go parallelly with the regular job responsibilities of the participating leader. Unless the leaders see great value in these programs, they will not prioritize it.

The second most crucial aspect that determines the success of leadership development programs is management involvement. The leadership team’s time and effort need to be significantly valued as assisting the leadership development efforts of the organization is simply one of the many tasks that they handle on a day-to-day basis. Their expertise should be leveraged in an efficient manner. Our study helped us uncover the best leadership development practices that can optimize the time and cost effort required to carry out leadership development and allow leaders to contribute towards shaping it to yield better results, without getting overburdened.

Originally published July 3 2019, Updated June 22 2020

Romila Kanchan

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