How to Create a Leadership Development Plan - XCD

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Nurturing the next generation of leaders in your organisation is a strategic imperative and an ongoing challenge for HR professionals. Especially after the social and economic uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ‘Great Resignation’, and the UK economy teetering into recession, an airtight leadership development strategy is vital to ensure the sustainability and success of any business.

As HRs know, effective leadership development is key for nurturing and retaining your top talent, enabling strong and resilient leadership, and even creating a healthy company culture. This is why a leadership development plan is essential. By providing a structured and clear framework for leadership development, an LDP ensures that team members receive the support, training, and direction they need to prepare them for future leadership positions. 

So, how can you create an effective leadership development plan within your organisation? Whether you’re creating a development plan from scratch or are revamping your existing strategy, here are our key tips for building a comprehensive plan that will lead to short and long term leadership success. 

Defining leadership development

Traditional definitions of leadership often focus on a leader’s ability to motivate and inspire followers, which are of course essential qualities to develop in leaders. However, another definition of leadership that resonates with us focuses on a leader’s practice of being a force for resilience and positive change in an organisation — something that is especially important at a turbulent time like this. As SHRM explains:

‘Leaders deal with rapid changes brought about by new technologies, globalization, politics, environmental concerns and war, transforming the basic values, beliefs and attitudes of followers to build organizational capacity for positive change.’

Leadership development needs to focus on helping employees develop leadership skills such as decision-making, innovation, project management, and coaching. So, here are our tips for creating a plan that develops these leadership skills. 

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Establish goals 

When creating or redesigning a leadership development plan it’s important to have clear objectives and goals in mind. This includes defining the skills and traits you want to develop in learners as well as ways of measuring the plan’s success using metrics. 

Although we tend to talk a lot about ‘leadership skills’, the exact skills necessary for leadership depend on the organisation’s objectives and unique company culture. For example, while a fast-growing scale-up may value leaders who are strategic and data-driven, a well-established non-profit organisation may value a leadership style that is more people-driven and nurturing. 

Therefore, at this stage of creating your leadership development plan, it’s useful to define the key aspects of leadership style that you want to develop alongside traditional leadership skills like decision-making, conflict management, and relationship building. 

It’s also important to define how you will measure the development programme’s success. This may include collecting data about participation and engagement, surveying participants about their experiences of the plan, and tracking its impact on metrics such as retention and productivity levels. Planning how you will track the success of learners’ development is essential for the next step in the progress…

Get buy-in 

When we talk about getting buy-in for the plan, we’re talking about three key stakeholder groups with their own unique challenges:

Senior leadership

When getting buy-in for a leadership development plan from senior leadership, the key problem for HR is justifying the use of time and resources. As with succession planning in general, leadership development is a long-term strategy with a hard-to-quantify ROI. Consequently, it can be hard to get the budget approved from the senior leadership team, especially at times when money is tight. 

Therefore, it’s essential to prove the long term value of the scheme. If the leadership development programme is not clearly aligned with the organisation’s priorities, the leadership may be reluctant to support it. Therefore, it is essential that HR professionals ensure the development programme is understandably married to the organisation’s strategic goals and objectives.


Buy-in from managers is also essential as these individuals facilitate and support the development of employees. However, managers may not immediately understand the value or goals of a leadership development scheme, so it’s important that HR professionals make this clear. 

Moreover, some managers may be resistant to change or concerned about a lack of time or resources needed to support the implementation of the scheme. It’s down to HR professionals to address these concerns and effectively communicate the benefits of the scheme to get the necessary buy-in from managers. 


Finally, it’s important to get buy-in from employees themselves. While it’s true that an organisation’s star performers will probably need little convincing to improve their skills ready for future leadership positions, the main challenge will likely be a lack of time. These high-potential team members are often operating at high productivity levels and take on a lot of responsibility, which means that it can be hard to find time for them to take on the challenges of a leadership development programme. 

Therefore, it’s important for HR executives to ensure that employees feel comfortable and motivated to engage with the programme. This may include redistributing duties and freeing them from some of their responsibilities in the short term in order for them to focus on their development. While this may initially appear counter-intuitive, this allows employees to learn more and perform better in the long term.

Identify potential leaders

Not every employee in your organisation will make a great leader, so the key to an efficient development strategy is identifying the team members with the most leadership potential. A 9 box grid is a talent management tool that can help with this by categorising employees into nine camps based on their potential and performance:

  1. Stars
  2. High potentials
  3. High performers
  4. Core players
  5. Enigmas
  6. Workhorses
  7. Up or out dilemmas
  8. Up or out grinders
  9. Bad hires

The best candidates for the leadership development process are in the first three groups: stars, high potentials, and high performers. Developing the skills and experience of these key employees is a great way to line them up for leadership in the future. 

This process should be closely aligned with succession planning efforts; identifying the critical leadership roles that currently exist and will exist in the future is key for developing learners towards filling them.

Remember the 70-20-10 rule

A leadership development plan includes a variety of different types of development that can help employees improve their leadership skills. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 70% of leadership development learning comes from challenging on-the-job experiences. 20% comes from developmental relationships and social learning, while just 10% comes from training or coursework. This rough framework for developing leaders was developed out of decades of research and is commonly referred to as the 70-20-10 rule.

This rule is important to keep in mind when designing a leadership development plan. While learning via coursework and training is important, a well designed leadership development plan needs to include opportunities for learners to gain on-the-job experience. The leadership development plan should also encourage the formation of developmental relationships through mentorship programs, coaching sessions, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

Make training accessible and intuitive

Even if the 70-20-10 rule tells us that coursework and training should only make up 10% of an employee’s leadership development, this is an essential component that should not be passed over. Think of training as the foundation of a house: relatively, it makes up a small proportion of the total, but without it the whole house will crumble. 

Consequently, training courses, study materials, and eLearning content need to be accessible, easy to use, and intuitive. One of the best ways to achieve this is by using learning and development software. As a single, centralised location where employees can sign up for training programmes, managers can approve budgets and attendance, and HR can track learning progress and events in real time, learning and development software is a must for any leadership development plan.

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Align leadership development with diversity and inclusion strategy

By incorporating diversity and inclusion training and development activities into the leadership development plan, the two strategies can go hand-in-hand. HR professionals can ensure that diversity and inclusion considerations are integrated into the selection and promotion criteria for leadership positions.

To further align the leadership development plan with the diversity and inclusion strategy, HR professionals can establish metrics and KPIs that track the progress of both initiatives and ensure they are aligned and reinforcing each other. Regular reporting and communication can also help keep the senior leadership team informed and engaged in both initiatives.

Moreover, diversity and inclusion strategy can be incorporated into the training future leaders receive; leaders can be trained on unconscious bias, cultural competency, and inclusive leadership practices. This ensures that your organisation’s future leadership continues to place emphasis on DEI initiatives. By aligning the leadership development plan with the diversity and inclusion strategy, organisations can create a workplace culture where leaders are equipped to promote and foster an inclusive environment, leading to improved employee satisfaction, increased diversity, and better business outcomes.

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Overcoming HR’s leadership development challenges 

The development of great leaders for critical roles is a key priority for HR in 2023 and is necessary for future-proofing an organisation in the long term. While the process of creating and getting buy-in for a leadership development programme can be tricky, useful tools like HR software with learning and development capabilities can streamline the process. 

With XCD learning and development, it’s easier than ever to manage upskilling in your organisation. Available in one single system which also contains all your other essential HR and payroll features, XCD HR software enables you to create an airtight leadership development programme.

Want to see how it works? Book a demo today!