How to Ready Your Organization for Leadership Development

Having the right organizational conditions in place before implementing a leadership development intervention is akin to a farmer preparing the soil before the seeds can grow. This article outlines the four conditions* that should exist before you roll out a leadership development program. These are essentially pre-conditions for desired behaviour change.

* – we’ve converged on these by doing a literature scan (see the end of the article for more information) and by tapping into our consulting experience

(This article does not cover any steps one might follow in implementing a program. Practical steps are set out in our leadership development best practices whitepaper.)

Four conditions to help you ready your organization for a leadership development program:

Provide the right context

The evidence is in. There is a weighty body of research that shows a correlation between business performance – like customer loyalty – and a strong leadership and people management competency, the engagement and job satisfaction of employees. For instance, Gallup shows that organizations with the highest people engagement scores have an 83 percent chance of achieving above-average business performance. By contrast, organizations at the lowest levels of engagement have a 17 percent chance.

Change mindsets

Leadership development programs can bring about impressive change. A positive change story must be kept in the forefront and communicated frequently. Statistics like the ones from Gallup are important for building a business case, told as a compelling narrative as to why the leadership program should be implemented. The business case should also make clear links to the organization’s strategy and business.

The organization should use the business case to educate and convince its leaders that it is a priority.

The thoughts, feelings and assumptions of leaders must be shifted to state where they embrace their leadership responsibilities fully. Senior leaders play a key role in modelling and completely supporting the initiative and everything it implies.

Take a systems approach

Your organization is a system – a set of interacting or interdependent components forming a complex, intricate whole. Identify the components that have a relationship with your leadership development initiative. For example: the organizational structure; the way you select, assess and promote people into leadership roles; your reward and recognition process; your performance management approach; your employee engagement survey; and your organizational culture / values. Review these to ensure that they optimally support your leadership initiative. And consider how you might improve how these components to compliment and reinforce each other.

A client of ours has inserted the explicit responsibilities it expects from its people leaders into their performance management form, as a way of ensuring they are held accountable for their responsibilities. It’s clear that people leaders are accountable for things like their team members outputs and behaviours, exercising leadership and collaboration and providing a safe and respectful workplace. Senior leaders in turn, are accountable for ensuring the quality of leadership practices by their people leaders and ensuring cross-functional teamwork. It works well.

Transfer the learning

Ensure that the managers of the leadership development program participants are equipped to underscore the skills learned in the program. They should purposefully coach and find opportunities for their direct reports to apply as many of the tools and techniques taught. They should do it in a way that stretches and builds the confidence of their team members. For example, if strategic thinking tools are covered in the program, the manager should guide their leader to build a vision for their team or a formulate a change plan for their project.

A “fertile soil” checklist:

This checklist can help you identify the gaps that should be closed before you launch your program:

Condition Questions to consider Yes No
Provide the right context 1.  Have you built a compelling story that explains the purpose of the program you’re implementing?
2.  Does your business case make strong connections to your strategy and show how you believe it will enable business performance?
Change mindsets 3.  Has the story and case been communicated frequently by senior leaders?
4.  Are senior leader’s role modelling the leadership behaviours desired and completely supporting the initiative and everything it implies?
Take a systems approach 5.  Have you listed the key components that have a relationship with your leadership development initiative and made adjustments / improvements to them to ensure that they reinforce the desired leadership behaviours and practices
Transfer the learning 6.  Are the bosses of the program participants equipped to purposefully encourage the applications of skills and tools learned?
7.  Are they creating opportunities for on-the-job application and creating time to coach?


In summary:

These four conditions are not the silver bullet which will guarantee your program’s success. They can, however, greatly increase the odds that you’ll obtain a return on your time and dollar investment, and that you can lock in the change you desire.


  • The boss factor: Making the world a better place through workplace relationships. Tera Allas and Bill Schaninger. McKinsey Quarterly. September, 2020.
  • What’s missing in leadership development? Claudio Feser, Nicolai Nielsen, and Michael Rennie. McKinsey Quarterly. August, 2017.
  • Why leadership-development programs fail. Pierre Gurdjian, Thomas Halbeisen, and Kevin Lane. McKinsey Quarterly. January, 2014.
  • Why leadership training fails – and what to do about it. Michael Beer, Magnus Finnstrom, Derek Schrader. October, 2016.

Nic Tsangarakis, Principal