Top Leadership Development Programs of 2018

What is a leadership development program?

A leadership development program is a commitment to and investment in the future of a company. It involves an extensive examination of the climate and culture of a company and any areas of concern or issues in need of improvement.

Leadership development programs attempt to gather an honest assessment of the skills, traits, and abilities of current and potential future leaders and expand and improve upon them in order to help the leaders reach their full potential and best meet the company’s needs.

Who can benefit from leadership development training programs?

Anyone who is currently involved in a leadership role within a company or organization can benefit from participating in a leadership development training program. This includes top executives in senior leadership positions, managers, team leaders and everyone serving in any kind of leadership capacity. Very few leaders are natural born leaders, and even those who are should always be viewed as a work in progress capable of learning, growing, and improving their leadership skills.

That addresses investing in the business in the present, but the ultimate goal of the best leadership development programs is to be more forward thinking and invest in the future as well. Companies should always have an eye on developing the talent within and helping to nurture and support the employees who have been identified as having the potential to be future leaders. This helps to improve morale and company loyalty as the employees feel valued and empowered and increases the likelihood of their future success when they step into leadership positions. It also serves to continue the progress toward the company’s goals and vision without the delay of having to hire and train new leaders and getting them up to speed. This makes for a more seamless passing of the torch from one leader to another and saves a company valuable time and money.

Every business wants to get the best possible commitment, engagement, and performance from its employees. One of the most efficient ways to achieve this is through the work of good, strong leaders. Investing in the support and development of the leadership skills that a company deems essential to its success by participating in a leadership development program for both current and future leaders is one of the most worthwhile investments a business can make.

The sweet smell of success: how a leadership development program helped a company reach its goals

If you have ever found employee turnover to be a problem for your company, you will be able to relate to this story shared by Vital Learning about its client, Staples, a leader in the office supplies industry. Staples was established in 1986 and now has stores in over 26 countries and 90,000 employees helping them to earn approximately $25 billion dollars a year in revenue. Staples built a new call center in Nova Scotia which became the home to 750 employees over the course of just a year and a half. Early on, they experienced a high level of employee turnover. They attempted to keep their leadership pipeline full by promoting leaders from within the company, but were often disappointed to find that their leadership skills were simply not as strong as they required. Staples contracted with Vital Learning to develop a leadership development training program that would be tailored to meet their needs. They focused on making sure that their company values were clearly expressed and had the buy-in and commitment of their employees as well as affirming their unwavering dedication to developing the leadership skills of employees at all levels within the company. Staples was happy to report that after a year of participating in the leadership program, employee turnover had dropped by approximately a third and the call center was given a prestigious recognition as it was certified by J.D. Power and Associates.

You have recognized the value of participating in a leadership development program, so now what?

Once senior executives and management have decided to get serious about developing their leadership skills, and the skills of those around them, and the company is onboard with taking the opportunity to participate in a leadership development training program, it is time for the real work to begin.

Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Despite the best intentions of senior leadership, if they are unwilling to truly examine every aspect of the company and really listen objectively to the perspectives of all of their employees as they work together to create a new strategic, united vision for everyone to work towards, the systems embedded in the company will not really change no matter how much time and money they invest in a leadership development program and they will quickly fall back into their old patterns.

Before a company can select a leadership development program that will meet their goals and expectations, they must first be willing to take a good hard look at themselves and decide what those goals and expectations are. Every employee must be united around a strategic plan and vision for the company. You must know where you are now, where you want to be, and then develop a plan with steps to help you get there.

The leadership team has to be willing to conduct an objective, honest assessment of their own skills and leadership characteristics and be accepting of receiving open and honest feedback from all employees about the obstacles they view as standing in the way of achieving systemic change and realizing the company’s vision – even if the feedback they receive is not what they would like to hear. The team leaders, executives, managers, and senior leadership can then begin to work together, armed with that critical information, to begin to make changes to the systems, roles, and relationships in the company in order for these to be aligned with and support the vision. That is where the leadership development programs come in and become invaluable.

What are some things to look for when considering leadership development training programs?

The  Harvard Business Review identifies reasons why so many leadership development programs have been unsuccessful in the past and lays out six steps that they think are essential to the success of any leadership development training program. In addition to the clear, unified, driving goals and vision set by senior leadership and focused on and supported by all employees, they also encourage an open, honest dialogue where every employee feels safe and empowered to share their ideas and concerns with the  leaders about any obstacles that they feel may be holding the company back from achieving its goals and reaching its full potential. Once those obstacles to success have been identified, it is up to the leaders to take the input from the employees and use it to develop an action plan on how they will address their concerns and work to overcome those obstacles moving forward.

Too often, leaders and employees think asking for help or reaching out to others in the company for guidance is a sign of weakness. This leads to them being willing to struggle with a problem for far longer than they may need to, costing the company valuable time and productivity. The best leadership development programs recognize this and seek to remedy it by changing the culture of the companies they work with.

They make sure that mentoring and coaching are embedded and modeled in their programs in such a way that the leaders will take these skills and principles back with them and immediately begin applying them in their companies. They understand that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and that being able to develop and utilize everyone’s talents is essential to the success of any business or organization. Coaching, mentoring, and professional development training should not be seen as something those who are weak need to seek, but rather, as something that benefits everyone and is an integral part of the company’s culture.

Strong leadership development training programs insist that before beginning their program, the companies they work with take the time to clearly define what successful participation in the program and achieving the company’s goals and vision will look like to them. They understand that if their clients don’t know where they want to go, they will never be able to recognize it when they get there. These desired outcomes should be clearly communicated to all employees so they can buy in and be focused on the importance of meeting these objectives and be confident in knowing they will ultimately be the driving force behind future employee and leader hirings, evaluations, and promotions.

Every year, the Training Industry selects its choices for the Top Leadership Training Companies. In 2018, they compiled their list based on the following criteria:

  • The influence they have on other companies within the leadership training industry
  • The variety and quality of programs they offer to their clients
  • The size of their company and their potential for continued growth
  • Awards or accolades they may have received within the leadership training industry
  • The size or the area from which they are able to attract clients

While it is important not to limit your search for the quality leadership development training program that will best meet the needs of your leaders and company to just one source, their list of criteria can provide you with some valuable things to consider when you are choosing a program. Visit the website to learn learn more about the individual companies they recognized in 2018.

Learning from the best of the best: what sets the top leadership development programs of 2018 apart from the rest?

Just like leaders and employees, there are no 2 leadership development programs that are exactly alike. There are several things though that the top leadership development training programs have in common.

They start working with a small group of leaders.

While it may be tempting to bring in every current and future leader in a company from day one of the program, that may turn out to be counterproductive. Creating lasting change can be a hard and even daunting process. It is human nature for people to be less nervous and participate more openly in small groups. They feel less self-conscious and more supported and willing to connect with their colleagues.  Program leaders are also able to give each of the company’s leaders more one-on-one focus and attention when the group size is limited at the beginning as they too are trying to assess each individual leader’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs and develop a good rapport with each of them so that they will feel comfortable approaching and interacting with them throughout the process. This is not to say that all of a company’s additional leaders can’t be brought into the program later or even in a staggered fashion where they meet at different times and then come together in a large group to share what progress the small leadership groups have made. This is supported and stressed by  hrdive among others.

The program leaders have a lot of leadership experience.

If your goal is to simply train leaders by just teaching them basic leadership skills,   instructors with extensive real-world leadership experience are not as essential. But if you want to encourage your leaders to push themselves to the next level and really grow and develop their leadership skills, you will want to make sure that the people who are influencing them have already walked in their shoes and can share their knowledge and expertise with them in a relatable manner. Also keep in mind that the program leaders are coaches, in essence teachers, and you want them to be skilled in getting their message across in a way that is easily understood by their audience so that your leaders are challenged and motivated to begin developing and applying the strategies, skills, and techniques that you value and have deemed essential to the success of your company.

They know how to tailor their message so that it reaches and captures the attention of people with all different learning styles.

You don’t want your leaders to view the program as just another chore on their already full to-do list. You want them to be positive about participating in it and to see the personal value they can gain from it in addition to the gains the company will experience. You want your leaders to be receptive to the information and guidance they are being given and to be able to remember and apply what they have learned. One way to encourage this is by selecting a program whose coaches understand the importance of tailoring the message so that it is more readily received by your leaders. Since no two people learn in exactly the same way, it will require them to get to know your leaders and what methods of message delivery work best with them. It might involve presenting your leaders with more real-world examples and success stories, giving them more time to reflect and plan individually,  giving them more opportunities to collaborate with their colleagues and network with others, or a combination of those methods or others. The leadership development training program you choose should have coaches who are willing to customize and tailor the program so that it brings out the very best in all of your current and future leaders.

They encourage you and your leaders to have meaningful discussions before they begin implementing the leadership development training program to ensure everyone is focused and on the same page.

The top leadership development programs want you to have met with your leaders and to have already decided individual goals that you want them to achieve, to have discussed what success means and looks like for them and the company, and to have clearly communicated with all employees your expectations for their contributions toward reaching the company’s goals, including how they will be held accountable through progress check-ins, employee evaluations, and performance reviews. It is crucial that everyone is aware of what is expected of them before working on developing their leadership skills.

Developing the leadership skills of your future leaders is an ongoing long-term goal.

No matter what other goals a company chooses to focus on, the best leadership development programs always make developing the skills of those employees identified as having the potential to become great leaders a top priority. Their goals are to make the leaders and company reach their full potential both in the present and in the future. They know that if companies are going to experience long-term, lasting success, one eye must always be focused on the future and making sure that there won’t be any gaps in the leadership pipeline.

They want to be sure that retaining good leaders is of paramount importance to their clients.

Investing in a quality leadership development training program requires a significant commitment of company resources.  It is important to protect that investment by being equally committed to retaining those strong leaders in the company for years to come. The top leadership development programs know that it is simply not enough to recruit the best leaders and employees, they must also harvest and nurture leadership talent from within. The best leadership development programs understand that their programs are not an ending, but rather a very important ongoing piece in their clients’ progress. As such, they recognize the importance of offering leaders continuous support, guidance, coaching, mentoring, and networking opportunities. Their work and relationships with the leaders last far beyond any initial training that that may take place. This is considered an important component of the services offered by the best leadership development programs and is essential to their success.

The top leadership development programs recognize the value in knowing your leaders and employees.

They know that leaders come in all shapes and sizes and can be found at all levels of a company. It is impossible to build upon the skills and talent, or improve upon the areas of weakness in your leaders if you don’t truly understand what they are. Assessing your leaders strengths and weaknesses before you attempt to build a development program around them is invaluable. It allows you to eliminate unnecessary steps and get to the heart of what you need to improve on moving forward. Giving your leaders an objective and honest assessment of their talents and abilities is a great gift to them as well. A goal is little more than a wish if you can’t measure the progress and successes achieved along the way toward reaching it. Being able to hold your leaders accountable for doing their part and giving them the tools to hold themselves accountable to the same high standards and expectations goes a long way towards achieving your company’s goals and strategic vision.

They consult with the owners of the company and top executives to discuss the results of the internal assessments they have conducted and develop an action plan for reaching their goals.

Forbes understands that the best leadership development programs want all leaders (and ultimately employees) to buy in and feel a sense of ownership over the program and its success. The best way to encourage this is by making them involved in every step of the process so they can see that their participation and input are valued. Everyone is also kept apprised of the progress and setbacks every step of the way in the action plan so that these can be celebrated or addressed and corrected early on.

Top leadership development programs understand the important role that mentoring plays in a company’s success, but they are flexible in how it is approached.

Mentoring is only successful when a fine line is walked between leaders and employees respecting and looking up to the skills and talents of a mentor while still feeling comfortable enough to approach them with questions or concerns. Mentors serve as role models, but they must also be approachable and build a good rapport with the leaders and employees they take under their wing. That takes a special person who has those talents and nurturing qualities and views being a mentor as something valuable that they enjoy doing rather than having their arm twisted to serve in a mentoring capacity. By the same token, a mentor-mentee relationship is something that needs to work for both people involved. There needs to be a natural comfort level and atmosphere of trust between them that can’t be manufactured or forced. The best mentoring relationships tend to happen when the people involved have some say in what the relationship will look like: who they feel comfortable working with, when, where, and how often they will meet, etc. The best leadership development programs understand this and offer these relationships some freedom to grow and evolve on their own with guidance and support offered as needed.

They know how crucial decision-making, problem-solving, and collaboration are to the success of a company so they find ways to weave the development of these skills into their program and the culture of the companies they work with at every opportunity.

Regis Company recognizes that developing good decision-making skills takes practice. The problem is, our human nature presents us with obstacles that can stand in the way of us making good decisions. We all bring our own baggage with us through life largely in the form of the biases that we carry with us which lead us to believe, often incorrectly, that our opinions and perspective are the only or best ones with which to view the world. This makes it difficult for us to consider the viewpoints of others when they stand in contrast with our own and limits our ability to make objective, informed decisions. When you add in our fear of the unknown and our resistance to be open to making any mistakes or failures on our part, you can begin to see why we really need to practice our decision-making skills. The best leadership development programs understand this and build that practice into their programs in the form of providing the leaders with real-world scenarios or simulation opportunities in which they can make decisions and then take the time to look back on them and reflect on the impact they have had while evaluating their effectiveness and changing their thinking if warranted.

Having leaders who  are good problem solvers is imperative in successful companies. Problem solving involves whole-brain thinking as we are required to use both our logical and analytical, critical thinking side of our brain at the same time that we use our creative side to think outside the box and generate solutions that haven’t been thought of before. This is no easy task and the best leadership development programs know that this skill also needs to be practiced and developed over time. They focus on encouraging the leaders they work with to look at possible solutions from every angle, considering the impact down the road, knowing full well that implementing a solution that hasn’t been well thought out can bring with it a whole new set of problems in the future.

Top leadership development programs know that collaboration is key in successful companies. There are very few occasions when two heads aren’t better than one and if companies are going to be able to achieve their goals and stay true to and focused on their unified strategic vision for success, their employees and leaders are going to need to be able to share ideas, communicate, and learn from each other. Leaders must have good communication skills in order to create a culture of collaboration within the company. The best leadership programs place a high priority on helping the leaders they work with develop strong communication skills.

While it is certainly true that no two leadership development programs are exactly alike, the best ones share a lot of common guiding principles that contribute to their reputation for delivering a quality program to their clients. The top leadership development programs in 2018 recognize that your success is their success and they are willing to meet you where you are and help you to develop a plan to get you where you want to go. They are not the short, scripted programs of the past that often proved unsuccessful at creating lasting improvement. They understand the importance of offering ongoing coaching, mentoring, and networking support and tailoring their programs to effectively meet your needs. Taking advantage of all that these programs have to offer just might prove to be the most worthwhile investment you can make in your company’s success – both now and in the future.


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