How to Create a Leadership Development Plan

Business professionals smiling together at a conference table.

Leadership is one of the most crucial elements of an organization. It guides culture, morale, and work ethic and helps drive the company forward. However, hiring specifically for leadership positions can be challenging. It can take time for someone to understand the nuances of an enterprise, all the while trying to guide other employees. However, choosing someone exceptional from your team to become a leader has its merits. Not only do they already align with your business, they understand its goals and are invested in seeing it succeed. A leadership development plan could be just what you need to capitalize on their talent and allow them to reach their full potential.

Perhaps you’ve observed a few team members who you could see fulfilling roles beyond their current position, and you want to give them a chance to grow. Leadership development is about more than just identifying these individuals; they also need the right opportunities. In this post, we’ll discover more about the leadership development plan and ways it can benefit your business and the people who work for it.

Key Takeaways

  • Leadership development can help you retain talent and stay agile.
  • This kind of plan involves many parts depending on your industry.
  • The steps you take to develop this plan can ensure the success of your business now and in the future.

What is a Leadership Development Plan?

This plan allows employees to gain the competency and skills needed for leadership positions within your organization. It is strategic and cannot be implemented based on a template or software. It needs to be structured based on key details and implemented long-term. This will allow enough time for the traits and qualities potential leaders need to gain to take shape organically. 

A leadership development plan must be personalized to your organization’s needs. The pace and methods often depend on the individual to whom the plan is delivered. It can teach hard and soft skills, outlining objectives and activities that an employee must meet to achieve the plan’s goals.

Why do Businesses Need a Leadership Development Plan?

The growth of any business relies on its staff to maintain the quality it is known for. This quality can be difficult to maintain without the guidance and leadership of the right individuals. These people can be right under your nose, ones you might consider star employees or high performers. They can keep your business competitive and allow it to retain the talent you want to have.

Leadership development provides your organization with the steps to stay ahead of the curve and fulfill gaps before they happen. It can be crucial in times of crisis or competitive markets. But it also demonstrates to employees your care and consideration for their advancement, fostering a workplace that believes in and trusts its employees.

How to Create a Leadership Development Plan in Seven Steps

While every organization should create their own unique leadership or executive development plan, there are some groundwork steps you can take to get started.

  1. Identify Top Talent

When considering which existing staff members have leadership potential, a few should come to mind. They might stand out in a meeting, make themselves available to support others, or have that “it” factor you can’t put your finger on. They aren’t ready for a full-scale promotion yet, but they have the traits and qualities you value when selecting leadership. These individuals could shine even brighter with time and a dedicated plan.

  1. Assess Talent

Having perspective can ensure you identify the right people and those who can take on the task load of becoming a leader. At this stage, check in with senior executives, the manager or supervisor, and the employee.

You are investing more in this employee. There will likely be an allocated budget to cover potential expenses and training programs. This budget should be approved by senior management, and they may also want a say in who participates in the leadership development plan. 

The individual’s manager or supervisor needs to be on board as well. The plan’s requirements may see them splitting their time between current duties and other projects. Without the support of their boss, the talent you identified may feel overwhelmed and torn, leaving them unable to succeed.

Finally, ensure you speak with the employee themselves. They should be engaged in the process and excited to take part. There is the chance they will refuse to go about a leadership development plan for personal or professional reasons or postpone until a later date. Although you see leadership potential, they might be less keen to pursue a position that requires more from them. 

  1. Understand Your Organization’s Leadership Style 

No matter the business, there is always an overarching connection to one or two leadership styles that the company sees as their way of doing things. Establishing a leadership development plan around a few styles that align with your organization can ensure your selected individual possesses or gains the traits and qualities necessary for a good fit.

Some of the most popular include the following: 

  • Autocratic
  • Authoritative
  • Coaching
  • Democratic
  • Laissez-faire
  • Transformational

Researching what your style is can help develop a framework for your leadership plan. The more you understand what you are looking for, the better your plan will be. Remember that agility is a key competency of many leadership roles, so incorporating two or three other styles into the framework can be beneficial.

  1. Determine and Review Key Leadership Competencies

In line with your organization’s leadership style, you’ll also need to determine the competencies needed for this role. Your next leaders will need to know current struggles while preparing for the unknown and need to learn how to handle both. You might focus on the ability to lead the organization, how they will lead others, or the ability to lead themselves. 

Once these details have been identified, you’ll have to compare the employee’s existing skills with those in your leadership development plan. This might work best as a dedicated assessment to accurately witness the gaps you can provide opportunities to bridge.

  1. Design the Leadership Development Plan 

After you’ve done the work to understand your organization’s leadership style, competencies, and employee skills, you can start to put them all together. This should involve a dynamic approach encompassing numerous senior members and learning options to create a comprehensive teaching environment. Depending on the structure and processes of your organization, you might employ a few different options for the proposed new leader. Here are a few choices to consider:

  • Microlearning. This training allows the individual to go through modules at their own pace and can be delivered via a learning tool.
  • Leadership mentoring. This is an excellent opportunity to pair your candidate with someone with the skills or competencies they need to work on and learn from another.
  • Job rotation. To gain a better perspective on processes outside their current role or department.
  • Instructional or professional training sessions. This could be done virtually or in person and is more tailored to the specific competencies of an organization.
  • Professional certifications. Identify if this position requires accreditations or consistent training to meet requirements for credibility and other purposes. 
  1. Conduct a Leadership Assessment

Launching your leadership development plan can feel like a weight off your shoulders. But it’s important to take a step back and review how well it works. Does it reach the goals you need it to? Monitoring the progress of employees along the way ensures that you know how ready they are to use the skills they have gained once the plan is complete. Ensure there is continuous feedback along the way, and don’t be afraid to engage when necessary. Tweaks and changes may need to be applied. This will allow the employee to become the leader they need to be. 

  1. Implement a Retention Plan

Once you better understand how you’ll assess your leadership development plan, you can work it into a retention strategy for employees. After all, an individual who has gone through this plan is now someone with the skills and knowledge to be an effective leader — someone your organization wants to hold on to. Additionally, this employee has been given opportunities within your organization to improve themselves and thus advance their career. A leadership development plan is a way to keep top-performing and capable employees happy by allowing them to grow and become the leaders they want to be. You might also consider offering varied compensation packages to staff pursuing leadership development, providing a rewards system, or connecting through regular touchpoints to ensure staff are content with their career progression. 

Embrace looking at different avenues for retention when it comes to leadership development. Monetary incentives can be a driving force but are often not the only thing important to staff. Work-life balance and having a say in decision-making can carry weight in their own way. Ensure you take the time to celebrate wins and value new leaders throughout their roles as part of your retention strategy.

What are the Challenges in Creating a Leadership Development Plan?

Leadership development plans will likely vary from company to company. That’s because qualities and traits that some businesses find important may be secondary in other organizations. Understanding what needs to be included in your leadership development plan can be a process that your team isn’t equipped to handle, potentially requiring leadership consulting to overcome immediate challenges.

While these plans are significantly important in their own right, it can be difficult to implement a leadership development plan in a company that doesn’t prioritize learning in its culture. Since this plan’s primary focus is gaining the right skills for the job, these priorities must align. Here are some other potential challenges that might come up when trying to develop these plans:

Budget Constraints

Investing in leadership development is just that — an investment. Budgets may be allocated outside training programs, or projects may have to be delayed if someone is shadowing a leader or other department and can’t perform all of their daily duties. Considering the amount of money it will take to lay out a base leadership development plan while accounting for various exceptions could lead to financial challenges. This is especially true as you look at pricey training programs or workarounds for projects.

Time Limits

Realistically, leadership development should be an organic process with milestones that a candidate reaches throughout their training. However, some limitations may happen to cause a strain on this timeline. For example, a leadership position may need someone to fill it sooner rather than later, meaning external hiring could result in the right candidate in a shorter amount of time. Similarly, everyone learns at a different pace, which may mean missing milestones as the employee going through leadership training prioritizes other tasks.

Lack of Buy-In from Management

Potential leaders may be easy to identify in your organization, but management may not look at things through the same lens. To develop a plan that nurtures and improves these individuals’ skill sets, there needs to be a commitment from various stakeholders. After all, a leadership development plan cannot be accomplished with only one mentor or learning experience. Without the support of existing leadership, management, or executives, your plan will not be able to progress in a way that results in positive change. 

Failure to Understand Relevant Details

Each organization prioritizes various traits and qualities of leadership. If you fail to understand the most effective type in your company, you may end up training leaders who will not be successful within their roles. You will need to have a firm grasp on leadership styles, and other vital details, like communication styles, that work best in your organization’s environment. Otherwise, your leadership development plan could miss the mark through no fault of the individual pursuing it.


When you consider putting together a leadership development plan for your company, many pieces are involved. A great starting point is the ability to recognize leadership potential and a desire to nurture high-performing staff while offering them the opportunity to increase their abilities and advance their careers. 

You’ll need to review your organization’s priorities for leadership and identify the best ways for those markers to be reached. Ultimately, it may take some time to overcome hurdles and understand how this plan fits into your company. All leadership development is meant to benefit your organization and the employees by highlighting their importance and value as crucial entities to make your business run smoothly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who needs a leadership development plan?

Any organization can develop a leadership development plan. After all, attracting and retaining talent within any business is crucial to success, and this plan demonstrates a commitment to that. The individuals who need this kind of plan may vary from company to company. When searching for candidates, consider who stands out to you and their base set of skills. They don’t necessarily need to be someone ready for an immediate promotion but someone who shows promise of advancement. 

What are leadership goals?

Leadership goals will look different from business to business. What remains constant is their need for measurable objectives to improve skills. While enhancing soft skills is an important piece of leadership development, the strides made during training must be quantitative and qualitative. Goals may focus on achieving certifications, putting in a certain amount of hours with a rotation or mentor, or completing designated modules. Whatever measures are implemented, leadership goals must be attainable and are an important part of the leadership development process.

Can leadership be developed?

Some individuals seem to be born leaders. They understand the soft skills needed to be effective at leading others and only gain more from the knowledge that hard skills provide them. However, not all individuals seek to be leaders. Even someone with natural leadership abilities may avoid developing their leadership skills because that kind of role or responsibility doesn’t feel right. By contrast, someone who shows no leadership abilities may struggle to grasp the fundamentals of leading others and be incapable of growth. Leadership can be developed in the right people through the appropriate teachings that will improve their skills.

Are you considering adding a leadership development plan to your organization? Whether you are in the initial phases or trying to work out the kinks, True North HR Consulting can help. Reach out to us today to get your leadership improvement plan where you want it to be.