6 Steps to an Effective Leadership Training Program

“I’m feeling isolated from the team.”

“I’m suffering from anxiety but don’t know how to talk to my boss about it.”

“I don’t feel a sense of purpose in my job anymore. I’m disengaged.”

These are actual stated challenges from top Fortune 50 tech company employees.  These are not made up. “Are your front-line managers prepared to handle these human challenges?

The job of a leader is even more complicated than it has been in the past three or four years. This is one of the reasons that a holistic leadership development program is paramount to an organization’s success.

In fact, Gen Z, the generation making up most of our workforce today, is highly attuned, and even greater so is Generation Alfa coming into the workplace. These factors are making leadership more complicated.

The bottom line is that we can no longer afford to underinvest in our leaders. The challenges are simply too great. Here are the six key steps to an effective leadership training program design.

1. Define The Objectives

An effective leadership development program must be linked to an organization’s strategy. For example, how is the company positioned competitively, and what is the value proposition? From this step, identify the organization’s capabilities or the attributes required for the successful execution of the strategy. Finally, what skills are required to be developed to maintain the organizational capabilities? You must ensure that a clear strategic framework drives program content and design.

The second step in building an effective leadership development program is identifying the target audience. Most current leadership development coaching investment is spent on senior leadership. However, most investment should be spent on new manager training or front-line leaders.

2. Identify the Target Audience

Front-line leaders oversee 60-80% of the workforce, and leaders account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement1. If you are struggling with low employee engagement, building the capabilities of new managers has a greater impact on the entire organization than a smaller portion of senior leaders. Further, when you invest in new manager training courses, you develop employees earlier in their careers. These employees have less hard-wired leadership patterns allowing you to see a greater impact on a larger talent pool.

3. Create a Holistic Program

Once we have a development strategy linked to capabilities and skills identified, you must build a comprehensive, threaded multi-component holistic program. Many leaders, in and outside of learning and development, don’t know much about how people learn, so they fall back on paying for one-day workshops and approving spend on learning technology. Still, these solutions rarely build more effective managers. Content consumption is not the same thing as learning.

Your leadership training program must utilize all five adult learning methods: cognitivist, behaviorist, humanist, social cognitive, and constructivist. A multiple learning method program threaded together creates consistency, compatibility, and reinforcement, leading to managers who remember what they learned and actually apply the skills back on the job.

The cognitivist adult learning theory is based on how we think and memorize as humans. The best strategy for acquiring knowledge is to teach in asynchronous online training modules. This offers our learners flexibility in how and when they learn. It is also cost-effective when deployed to new managers in geographically dispersed locations.

The second adult learning theory is behaviorist. It is based on the philosophy that humans create learning by responding to external stimuli. The best strategy to accomplish this is through coaching. Compared to virtual learning alone, employees are 1.5x more likely to apply a newly learned skill when they receive both virtual learning and coaching together2.

Humanist is the third adult learning theory that asserts that knowledge and feelings are not separate – they go hand in hand, and we must look at the whole person. We can accomplish this by including assessments in our holistic program. The 360-degree assessment is the gold standard, but other assessments might include: personality, emotional intelligence, values, strength-based or adaptive assessments.

The fourth social cognitive theory relays that learning occurs in a social context. Humans gain information by combining our own experiences with the observations of others. This includes both rewards and punishments. Including peer-to-peer learning opportunities is a force multiplier when it comes to new manager training and performing quickly in a new role. Further, peer feedback enables enduring mentoring relationships that far outlast the formal program.

The final element of your holistic program is derived from a constructivist theory which states that knowledge is created not by transmission from an instructor but rather by a learner creating meaning for themselves. Applying the knowledge in the workplace and practicing – not in a classroom but with their teams. This practice reinforces the learning and allows the manager to apply theory to real-life situations, gain additional feedback, and correct behavior for the future. 

For our learning training programs to have an impact, you must build a program that leverages all five adult learning theories, has practice embedded into it, and has an opportunity to create peer-to-peer learning.

4. Involve Key Stakeholders

Within an effective leadership development program, you must involve key stakeholders to create a culture of accountability – this must be over and above simply getting “buy-in.”. When a manager of a manager is involved in the program, they emphasize that learning is a priority in the business. It allows them to build strong relationships with their team members and increase trust and respect. Creating a collaborative, supportive environment, they can also use this as an opportunity to coach and mentor their direct reports and reinforce the training’s alignment with the organizational strategy and goals.

5. Evaluate Effectiveness

Leadership development historically is failing with a miserable 10% return on investment3. If other investments in your company were only effective 10% of the time, they wouldn’t exist. Consider a business that only delivers products to customers 10% of the time – the business wouldn’t exist. You must proactively evaluate the effectiveness of our new manager training with leader assessments, employee engagement or other ROI measures and do better!

6. Provide Ongoing Support

Leadership development isn’t a sprint or a one-time event. It must be viewed as an ongoing process of experimenting, self-making, and self-discovery. If you genuinely want to move from self-awareness to true behavior change, our leadership development programs must span multiple periods.

Are you ready to transform your approach to leadership training? Keystone Partners’ Accelerator™ Program uses a proprietary microlearning process that allows for learning over time, reinforcement of the content to allow for greater knowledge retention, remote live group coaching sessions to allow for feedback, and manager support to encourage and promote skill application. Interested in learning more? Contact us today to hear how our Accelerator™ Program can elevate your team.


The original publication of this article was posted on TrainingIndustry.com on May 23, 2023 https://trainingindustry.com/articles/leadership/6-steps-to-an-effective-leadership-training-program/

1  https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/182792/managers-account-variance-employee-engagement.aspx

https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3975868

https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/leadership/whats-missing-in-leadership-development

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