• Published January 5, 2023
  • 7 Minute Read

5 Characteristics of a Successful Leadership Development Strategy & Approach

The most effective leadership development approach is one that supports learning and growth across your entire organization.
Published January 5, 2023
People discussing the characteristics of a successful leadership development strategy and effective leadership development approach

HR Execs Share Insights on Where to Invest for the Most Effective Leadership Development

Most HR executives agree they need leaders who can think strategically, disrupt old-school business models, and create cultures that embrace change and lead in a challenging world. But how much are they willing to invest in getting people ready? And what types of training and approaches to leadership development are most successful and effective?

To find out, we conducted research to benchmark typical levels of leadership development spending. It’s clear from the responses we received that HR executives believe investing in effective leadership development to build a strong pipeline of leaders is critical to the current and future success of their organizations.

Where are organizations investing right now in leadership development? Take our poll to see the latest results:

In our study, most respondents reported planning to make sustained, double-digit increases in their development budgets, year-over-year. What’s more, they said they’re investing equally across leader levels — from first-level supervisors to senior executives — and they’re investing even during economic downturns.

We compiled their responses to share the 5 factors HR executives believe are critical to a successful leadership development strategy.

The Keys to Effective Leadership Development

5 Factors for a More Successful & Effective Leadership Development Strategy

5 Characteristics of an Effective Leadership Development Strategy

1. A blended delivery approach.

It’s time to say goodbye to the one-size-fits-all model to training.

The executives in our study reported that the most successful leadership development initiatives involve a blended approach that reflects the organization’s unique culture and business needs.

Respondents define “blended” broadly and think about it from 2 perspectives:

  • Blending modalities, such as combining face-to-face, in-person delivery with online leadership training, gives leaders greater flexibility and choice in how they learn.
  • Blending formal programs with informal, bite-sized learning, including webinars, on-demand tools, self-paced videos, leadership workshops, mentoring, etc., reinforces learning and makes it easier to accommodate and absorb.

To help leaders navigate these expanded development choices in a thoughtful and systematic way, organizations are providing guidance on what capabilities and leadership competencies are most important at each point in the typical career continuum.

As one Chief Talent Officer told us, “We let anybody take anything, and we have learning maps. So, if someone wants to become a people manager, then these are the things you should be learning in the next 60 days. Our belief is that if you tell the leader what they need to be successful, then it will be upon them to use resources. It places accountability on the learner.”

Access Our Webinar!

Watch our webinar, The Challenges of Scaling Leadership Training, to learn how to build a better workplace culture through scaling development opportunities for employees.

2. Broad and sustained support.

Often, new training offerings are announced with great fanfare, but quickly fade away and become the “flavor of the moment.”

There is no consistency, no sustained support, and no follow-through from month to month or year to year, which can drain people, send the wrong message, and undermine successful leadership development.

But increasingly, senior leaders see effective leadership development as a point of differentiation that helps them retain their people, bring their corporate strategy to life, and position their organizations to weather unpredictable disruptions in the marketplace and the economy … including, but not limited to, the challenges faced during the pandemic and its aftermath. Organizations that are focused on improving employee engagement and retention will want to pay attention to development opportunities.

As a result, HR executives are focused on building top-down, organization-wide support for learning across all levels — making it a part of each leader’s job and creating an overall culture of learning. And they’re starting at the top, by engaging senior executives in modeling effective leadership behaviors and in motivating and inspiring leaders to make development a priority. One company in our survey even reported they engage board members and senior executives as leadership development “instructors,” asking them to share their personal experiences and insights during an annual event.

A broad-based, comprehensive, all-access pass to proven leadership development training content and solutions can be very helpful to HR leaders in providing turnkey, effective leadership development that supports employees at all levels and scales across the organization.

3. A focus on workplace realities.

The leaders we surveyed say the most effective leadership development initiatives link learning to real-world challenges and opportunities. After all, growth most often occurs when on-the-job experiences are at the center of talent development.

Of course, organizations must do this while also recognizing the real struggles their teams face. Burned-out, stretched-thin managers don’t have much time or energy for learning & development — or even leading effectively — if their focus has been on survival. Helping employees manage their work-life conflicts was important even before the pandemic, and it continues to be critical.

As always, though, the most successful and effective leadership development initiatives also bring leadership theory to life. When leaders understand how their work supports the overarching success of the business and connect to the organization’s purpose, their learning becomes more relevant.

That’s especially true if workplace-linked development is reinforced over time with networking, peer learning, ample boss support, and coaching and mentoring, particularly for new leaders.

4. Interaction and engagement.

Today’s HR teams are pushing development well beyond static lectures, because with successful leadership development, learning is active, not passive.

As one senior HR leader told us, “Regardless of whether it’s through a screen or face-to-face, it’s not going to be effective if you can’t stop and ask questions. Interaction is very important.”

So organizations are bringing learning to life with interactivity, gamification, Q&A sessions, and other techniques that keep learners interested and engaged. As a result, important ideas are more likely to “break through” and capture each leader’s attention, leading to effective leadership development and lasting change.

Experientials and simulations, for example, can make learning “stickier” and therefore more likely to produce lasting change. They can shift a leader’s mindset and open them up to new possibilities and to more effective ways of leading.

At CCL, our leadership programs have long been lauded for their research-based, hands-on learning opportunities, particularly when delivered in-person. But we’ve also found that online leadership development offers unexpected benefits when the program is deliberately designed to foster authentic connections and deliver vibrant, engaging experiences.

5. Use of tools and assessments.

Learning to lead is an intensely personal experience. That’s why it’s no surprise that our surveys found that HR teams are ensuring successful leadership development by providing specific, tailored guidance for each leader’s personal development journey using individualized leadership assessments.

To model this best practice, HR departments identify the leadership skills their organizations need for current and future success. And they use 360-degree feedback assessment data to benchmark competencies and help each leader become more self-aware, with an understanding of strengths and development needs.

This assessment-based perspective provides an important focal point for effective leadership development. Leaders have a clear understanding of what their organization needs, how their performance compares to their peers, and which improvements they need to make to support their organization’s success. They then can build a personalized development roadmap for their own leadership journey.

This is among the 360 degree feedback best practices for linking talent and business strategies, and the most savvy HR teams do this for effective leadership development.

Is Your Organization Investing in Effective Leadership Development?

How do your organization’s investments in leadership development stack up, when compared to peers? Are you investing as much in your talent as your competitors are investing in theirs?

These 5 characteristics of a successful and effective leadership development strategy and approach reflect a small portion of the rich information captured in our report, Benchmarking the State of Leadership Development Spending: Today & Tomorrow.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

We can help you determine a successful leadership development strategy and effective leadership development approach for your organization. Partner with us for customized leadership development, or take advantage of the opportunity to license our content, and bring our proven research, programs, and tools in-house to leaders at all levels of your organization.

Written by

Leading Effectively Staff
Leading Effectively Staff

This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

5 Characteristics of a Successful Leadership Development Strategy & Approach
© Center for Creative Leadership. All rights reserved. CCL

What to Explore Next

About CCL

At the Center for Creative Leadership, our drive to create a ripple effect of positive change underpins everything we do. For 50+ years, we've pioneered leadership development solutions for everyone from frontline workers to global CEOs. Consistently ranked among the world's top providers of executive education, our research-based programs and solutions inspire individuals in organizations across the world - including 2/3 of the Fortune 1000 — to ignite remarkable transformations.