How leadership development works today


44% of executives believe that their company fails to sufficiently support their development. That’s despite the fact that developing leaders is crucial to recruiting and retaining top talent – and that it ultimately impacts employee engagement and company performance. Given current trends around AI, hybrid working and multi-generational teams, HR teams therefore need to rethink how they approach leadership development.

We explain what leadership development means today and what is important to successful programs.

Are you looking for software that takes leadership development in your company to the next level? Leadership 360 gives leaders on-demand feedback from managers, colleagues, and their teams to help them get the best out of themselves. Intuitive dashboards and AI-powered action plans make the entire process simple, transparent, and measurable – for everyone involved.

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What does leadership development mean?

Leadership development is a core pillar of people development and includes training and support that helps managers – or those who want to become managers – to adapt to the changing demands of today’s work environment and successfully lead their teams. In the broadest sense, the goal of leadership development is to improve a person’s abilities to lead. To achieve this, any weak points are identified and addressed, and strengths are built on.

Leadership development today is about more than traditional career advancement, especially for younger employees. Instead, it is about personal development and continually learning and improving.

All of this means that leadership development programs have a different focus in today’s working environment, compared to the past. They cover areas such as team-oriented leadership or how leadership works in the digital age – including how to effectively lead and motivate teams that may be spread across multiple locations and work in a hybrid way.

Why is leadership development so important?

Attracting talent: Meeting the needs of younger generations

If you want to attract and retain junior employees, you have to invest in them – preferably with target-oriented development. Generations Y and Z are actively looking to work for companies that align with their values and that provide them with ongoing learning and development opportunities.

This means that companies should focus leadership development programs earlier in an employee’s career, in order to attract and retain them, preventing churn and saving time and money.

Retaining leaders: Top talent only stays if it is nurtured

Using leadership development to attract employees is just the start. To ensure that they stay for the long term leadership development must be a central part of everyday working life. This is the only way to retain and develop your top talent.

Increased productivity: Good leadership ensures motivated and productive employees

Companies that invest in improving their managers benefit from better leadership – meaning that employees are better motivated, more engaged, and thus more productive.

What qualities does a good leader need?

Good leaders stand out from the crowd. Unlike managers, leaders are visionaries and role models for their teams. They drive change, see challenges as opportunities, promote collaboration within their teams and between departments, support the development of their employees and provide guidance at all times by setting and communicating a clear vision.

Leaders have particularly strong interpersonal skills and are characterized primarily by the fact that they focus on people and lead transformationally.

Essentially, as well as technical and process skills, they need to have strong social and personal competencies in order to succeed.

Vital leadership characteristics focus on:

  1. Consideration
  2. Empathy
  3. Listening
  4. Teamwork
  5. Self-reflection


Leadership development must therefore start with these characteristics and build the qualities that make good leaders. Bear in mind that every organization has its own specific needs. You therefore need to understand which qualities are particularly important for your own company.

How does leadership development work?

HR teams are the linchpin

HR teams play a central role in leadership development and are responsible for three core tasks:

  1. Support: Providing suitable training, creating development programs, and putting these into effect, proactively supporting managers at all times.
  2. Moderation: HR acts as an independent third-party moderator, sitting between the leader and employees. It ensures that the selection of new managers follows objective criteria and that they manage fairly.
  3. Consulting: HR teams advise on wider leadership development methods, i.e. whether specific activities help to achieve development goals.

To supplement the HR team and provide fresh, outside perspectives it can also make sense to bring in external mentors and/or consultants for specific support.

Leadership development must be based on four pillars:

  1. Theoretical foundations and universal leadership principles: Managers need to understand leadership theories in order to be able to develop themselves. It is equally important to develop shared leadership principles across the company. This ensures that there is a common understanding of what leadership means throughout the organization, providing clear expected standards of behavior.
  2. Organizational infrastructure and regular feedback: The organization must create a framework that supports ongoing leadership development. This includes structured training programs, with the right resources in place to give leaders access to learning. Listening to feedback is central to leadership development, meaning there must be a regular, ongoing program to collect feedback to measure the effectiveness of both individual activities and the wider program.
  3. Self-reflection: Managers must constantly interrogate their own thoughts, feelings, and actions, recognize weak points, and want to develop. This should be supported by regular feedback from everyone that they work with in order to compare their self-perception with that of others. HR teams need to work with managers, supporting them to think about their performance, suggest actions and implement changes.
  4. Inspiring role models: Senior leaders should not only support the manager, but also serve as role models. A healthy feedback and training culture develops leaders into effective role models.


Meaningful leadership development programs need thorough planning

A leadership development program is a formal initiative that aims to equip leaders with all the necessary skills to lead effectively. Programs can be one-year or longer and usually include a mix of training, self-study exercises, and coaching.

Every leadership development program typically takes place in three steps:

  1. Concept
  2. Performance
  3. Measuring success


1. Creation of a concept for leadership development

Define the goal of leadership development

Strategic planning is about setting the goal for leadership development, for example, defining the skills and competencies that should be taught. These should take into account your business goals and changes in your market.

In principle, it is advisable to plan programs so that they run on an ongoing basis, but for at least one year.

Possible topics and focal points are:

  • Self-management
  • Employee management and engagement
  • Motivation and persuasiveness
  • Employee development
  • Communication skills
  • Conflict and problem-solving skills
  • Time management
  • Leadership culture
  • Systemic thinking


Select your group of candidates

Once the program goal has been set, the next step is to analyze the current situation: Who has the potential to be developed? Which executives are suitable for the program?

In the past the HR department’s role was to select specific managers for leadership development programs. However, today it is important to democratize leadership development, i.e. make it as accessible as possible to everyone.

Create development plans

Next, plan how the program will be rolled out. Create individual development plans for managers and select the right content and tools to enable success. Each development plan should be tailor-made and include milestones, concrete actions and measurable goals (such as quantitative KPIs and qualitative indicators).

Selecting the right approaches to development is also vital. Suitable methods include:

  • Continuing education and training that can take place online, internally or externally. Depending on the objective, this involves the development of either professional or social/management skills.
  • Individual coaching, which usually takes place externally and is particularly useful at times of change or disruption.
  • Mentoring, carried out continuously, working closely with an internal or external mentor.
  • One-on-one training courses focused on the individual and taking place over multiple days.
  • Self-study, for example through online courses or relevant content. Self-study requires managers to be self-motivated and committed to their development.
  • Rotation programs between departments or foreign placements can also be useful in leadership development, although this depends on the end goal.


At this point HR teams should also understand what resources (people and money) are required for success. Above all they need to involve employees right from the start. After all, you cannot force good professionals to become leaders if they are not interested – without their buy-in the program will fail – no matter how good it looks on paper.

 2. Implementation of the leadership development program

During the implementation phase, ongoing support is vital. HR teams need to be in regular contact with the manager, making sure that activities are carried out and providing help for the manager if required.

3. Measuring success

The best way to measure success is to directly ask those that work with the manager, as they are in daily contact with them. Only they can judge whether the measures are bearing fruit. To do this, collect feedback and use this to measure pre-determined KPIs and qualitative indicators.

360 degree feedback, provides the ability to evaluate the success of your program by collecting feedback from all perspectives, including peers, managers and reports.

What will leadership development look like in the future?

Built on 360 degree feedback

To drive change, leadership development must be based on reliable data – i.e. real feedback. When collecting feedback it is vital to include the manager’s entire professional environment and thus prevent subjective or partial assessments. Through 360 degree feedback, managers receive a complete picture of their professional and leadership qualities from a range of sources, helping them to develop professionally and personally.

Greater use of AI

Leadership development is also being radically changed by technology, especially the rapid rise of artificial intelligence. AI helps companies to identify the competency profiles they need going forward, and easily compare them with your leaders’ current skills. This improves planning and speeds up decision-making. AI also makes it much faster to find, select and provision relevant training courses based on current competencies and future needs.

For HR teams, this means they have more time for strategic tasks and can devote their time to supporting leaders instead of administration. To provides this strategic focus companies need to embrace AI now and deploy relevant solutions within their organization.

Learn more about how AI is changing the way HR teams work.

Focus on interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are already what distinguishes strong leaders from capable managers. This while become even more vital as the administrative tasks and routine activities that managers focus on now will be carried out by AI in the future. This frees up leaders to spend time where it really matters – on supporting employees.

In the future, leadership development will therefore have to focus even more on the development of soft skills – especially on empathetic leadership.

More on how AI will change the role of leadership in companies.

An ongoing process replaces one-off programs

In the future one-off training will be replaced by continuous development opportunities. This makes leadership development an integral part of the company and its operations.

Embedding personal development across the organization helps create a culture where asking for feedback becomes the norm, criticism is seen as a positive to learn from and everyone is focused on improving their personal performance.

Access to individual, tailor-made development opportunities

Thanks to artificial intelligence, it is now comparatively easy to personalize leadership development. AI not only automatically suggests relevant courses, but training information is also always tailored to individual needs as AI understands the manager’s individual learning style.

Democratizing leadership development

Previously, limited resources meant that HR teams had to prioritize leadership development with just a small group of senior leaders. Thanks to smart tools, it is now possible to democratize leadership development and align it with the needs of a broader group of managers.

Instead of focusing on a small group, organizations must invest in the development of all leaders.

Consider leadership development as organizational development

Leadership development is not an end in itself but is central to business success. Ultimately, companies should not consider leadership development separately, but as a key part of organizational development and ensure that it is always aligned with the company’s goals.

Sustainable leadership development with Tivian’s Leadership 360

Tivian’s Leadership 360 provides leaders with round-the-clock feedback and insights. It uncovers strengths, weaknesses and, above all, blind spots, providing managers with relevant insights.

Intuitive dashboards make leadership development easily measurable for everyone involved, while artificial intelligence helps to create individual action plans.

Get to know Leadership 360 through a free demo and see for yourself how it takes your leadership development to the next level.

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