Leadership Development: Definition, Methods & Practical Tips

Stefan Schulze

A manager presents in front of employees
VIDEO With english subtitles

As an HR or L&D manager, you know: Successful leadership development only works with a lot of commitment and motivation – but it pays off! We'll show you why it's important to develop your own talents into leaders and what methods you can use to do so. In addition, we share helpful practical tips that you can use to design leadership training efficiently.

Definition: What Is Leadership Development?

Leadership development is a specialized area of personnel development that focuses on the training of leadership competencies. It includes methods and measures to positively develop the behavior and thought patterns of leaders.

Benefits: Why Is Leadership Development Important?

The continuous training and development of managers forms the backbone of a successful organization.

Companies that develop leaders internally ...

  • Become more attractive for employees:
    Personal and professional career advancement and development opportunities increase employee retention and satisfaction. This not only ensures reliable and long-term management succession, but also quickly gets the word out to applicants and attracts new talent.
  • Increase the willingness to perform and the quality of the work results:
    When you develop your employees' talents and enable them to take the next steps on the career ladder, they feel valued. Furthermore, they are more engaged, have an increased motivation to work, and produce higher-quality results.
  • Tie other team members to the organization:
    Competent team leads are not available everywhere and are a good reason for employees to stay in the company. Internally developed leaders act as role models and are multipliers (i.e. future mentors) for your leadership training.

No matter how dynamically the world of work develops and how rapidly new technologies influence markets, through permanent management development, you ensure the reliable (re-)filling of lead positions. As a result, your company remains constantly capable of action.

Competencies: What Makes a Good Leader?

The aim of management development is to promote employees so that they are able to lead teams both personally and professionally. In this way, the respective department contributes to the success of the company.

But what does it take? What tasks do leaders have to fulfill? And what skills are necessary for this?

Management Tasks

The basic to-dos of a manager are distinguished between two types of tasks: function-oriented and people-oriented.

Function-oriented tasks consist of strategic and organizational activities. They ensure that processes function and that employees can do their work in a structured environment. A manager must thereby:

<li>Plan (e.g. projects)</li>
<li>Manage (in the sense of project management)</li>
<li>Implement (and make decisions for the team)</li>
<li>Delegate (by distributing subtasks to team members)</li>
<li>Control (whether set goals are achieved)</li>
<li>Optimize (e.g. increasing the efficiency of processes)</li>

Person-oriented tasks focus on the employees themselves and promote social interaction. With regard to the team climate and personal development, managers must:

<li>Resolve conflicts (by acting emotionally intelligent)</li>
<li>Promote communication (both within teams and across departments)</li>
<li>Develop employees (through individual mentoring and identifying career opportunities)</li>
<li>Ensure performance levels (e.g., by increasing employee motivation)</li>
<li>Drive change (i.e., initiate and steer change management)</li>

Of course, no perfect leaders fall from the sky – and neither do titans. Even goalkeeping icon Oliver Kahn has learned from his mistakes and developed into an exceptional leader on and off the pitch.

Leadership Skills

The right skill set is crucial for successful leadership. In terms of leadership skills, team leads should have strong competencies in these four areas:

<li>Professional competence (e.g., problem-solving and innovation skills)</li>
<li>Methodological competence (e.g. strategic and analytical thinking)</li>
<li>Social competence (e.g. communication and conflict management)</li>
<li>Self-competence (e.g. <a href="/en-blog/training-emotional-intelligence">emotional intelligence</a> and self-motivation)</li>

Did you know? Distinct soft skills are much more important for good leadership than professional and technical knowledge.

So when choosing topics and content, make sure your leadership training develops the right leadership skills.

Contents: What Are Important Leadership Development Topics?

What upskilling for managers looks like depends on the experience and prior knowledge of the learners. Nevertheless, some topics are particularly in demand.

Some of the most important and most trained topics for (aspiring) managers are:

  • Change management
  • Employee management and development
  • Self management
  • Leadership culture & teamwork
  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Systemic thinking
  • Decision-making and delegation competence
  • Conflict and problem solving competence
  • Motivation and persuasion skills

Methods: How Does Sustainable Leadership Development Work?

Management training is aimed at retaining employees in the company for the long term.

In order to sustainably improve the relationship between employees and the organization, there are helpful tools that shouldbe offered – not only to candidates for management positions, but to the entire workforce. These can include:

  • Regular employee appraisals in which personal development is discussed and attractive career opportunities are outlined.
  • Joint goal-setting meetings in which realistic, role-related goals are developed together that contribute to the success of the company.
  • Flexible working time models that enable all employees to optimally integrate their job and further training measures into their daily schedules.
  • Monetary incentives, e.g. position-related salary increases in lead positions, which, although not decisive for company loyalty, are nevertheless a motivating factor.

Regarding appropriate methods for leadership development, the following are suitable:

  • Coaching and Mentoring: Individual seminars and individual mentoring by experienced colleagues or external experts enable particularly individualized support. In direct exchange, practical experiences can be shared and specific challenges can be taken into account. Coaching and mentoring are limited in time and can be implemented as needed.
  • Online Courses: The more personalized continuing education measures are, the more effective they are. Digital learning platforms offer the most flexibility and the largest selection of relevant leadership topics. They can be integrated into any workday and promote individual development through self-directed learning.
  • On-Site Trainings: On-site seminars are primarily worthwhile if several people are participating. They are characterized by many opportunities for interaction (e.g., in the form of planning or role plays). In combination with selected online courses, practical blended learning formats for management development can also be utilized.
  • Rotation Programs: Job rotations provide a cross-departmental understanding of processes and promote the exchange of knowledge between departments. This method is particularly suitable for experienced employees who move through different areas of the organization for a short period of time.
  • Foreign Assignments: At international companies with multiple locations, employees can gain experience abroad for one to three years. Similar to rotation programs, this allows them to develop their organizational and social skills in particular.

Which method ultimately best supports the development into a manager must be decided individually. The HR department of a company usually helps with this.

Illustration for leadership development: A team lead shows the direction for his team

Organization: What Role Does HR Play in Leadership Development?

The HR department – or, if available, the L&D managers – is where all threads of management development come together. This is where all training programs are initiated, planned and coordinated.

HR (or L&D) assumes different key functions, such as:

<span style="color: #fc6676">1.</span> Strategy Development & Training Design

The HR department proactively drives the further development of managers (and all employees in general). This includes creating strategies for training (new) leaders and selecting suitable candidates.

Once (potential) leaders have been identified, HR creates development programs that are individually tailored to the learner and to the development strategy, and assists in the selection of appropriate tools and methods.

If no resources are available internally, HR also organizes external experts for training or facilitates online training.

<span style="color: #fc6676">2.</span> Implementation & Moderation

HR accompanies all measures of executive development and is available throughout the process in an advisory capacity. In a facilitating role, HR ensures that the requirements of the learners are met by the selected training methods.

During and also outside of training phases, HR promotes exchange between managers and employees. In doing so, the contact persons remain neutral and are available to both sides. Where necessary, HR also moderates training sessions.

<span style="color: #fc6676">3.</span> Monitoring & Continuity Guarantee

Each program is rounded off by monitoring the success of the training measures. HR analyzes the implementation and, where possible, measures the effects on employee performance.

Based on this, HR optimizes existing training formats and develops new training programs. To ensure a long-term learning culture, employees receive ongoing individual advice on further development opportunities after completing training.

Practical Tips for HR & L&D: How Do You Implement Leadership Training Effectively?

The conception of executive training can be divided into five steps:

  1. Target Definition
    Which management position needs to be filled?
    What must the new manager be able to do for the corresponding position?
  1. Analysis of the Existing Management Potential
    Which candidates are suitable?
  1. Creation of an (Individual) Development Plan
    What content and methods will be used to support a candidate or a group?
    What resources are needed for this?
  1. Implementation of the Training
    Are all individual requirements met with the training?
  1. Continuous Review
    How successful was the training?
    Which subsequent trainings are suitable and necessary?

Benjamin Heimes, Head of Customer Success at Masterplan.com, has supported more than 400 transformation projects and conducted well over 4,000 customer meetings – and developed numerous leadership trainings in the process. His three real-world tips that you can apply immediately in your organization are:

<span style="color: #fc6676">Tip 1:</span> Rate and Sort Content

What leadership skills do your (potential) team leads actually lack? It's best to ask those who would know best: your employees.


<span style="color: #fc6676">Tip 2:</span> Develop Internal Ambassadors

Leading the way is an important characteristic for leaders. Take advantage of this when you're looking for up-and-coming talent for your leadership positions!


<span style="color: #fc6676">Tip 3:</span> Integrate Interactive Elements

If the learning path is monotonous and boring, not much knowledge usually sticks. This also applies to management development.


Opportunities & Risks: What Should You Pay Attention to in the (Further) Development of Managers?

As promising as training of and for managers is, there are of course certain risks.

Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Selecting the Wrong Candidate(s):
    You select employees for your initiative who are not suitable for it or who do not want to develop into managers. It is also critical to select according to sympathy or to hold on to the wrong candidates for too long.
  • Poor Planning:
    If you're too hasty in choosing your actions, training often has little chance of success. A lack of a plan B and programs that are set up for too long can also be problematic.
  • Lack of Continuity:
    Don't sit back after a training program is completed, because leaders develop through long-term actions. If you leave them alone and only rely on one-off programs, there will be no lasting effect.

If you plan your measures conscientiously and take into account the individual needs of your learners, however, you will not be challenged by a shortage of skilled workers or unfilled management positions. 

This is because developing your own employees into leaders is the most reliable way to position your company for the future.


FAQ on the Topic

Stefan Schulze

Stefan Schulze is Content Marketing Manager at Masterplan. In the blog, he explains important terms from the L&D and HR world and writes about methods, concepts and developments in corporate learning.

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