Leadership development has become a crucial aspect of professional growth in both the public and private sectors. Organizations that aim to thrive in the rapidly changing business environment understand the importance of leadership development. Despite this, a staggering 61% of organizations do not offer any leadership training, and 65% of new leaders feel unprepared for their role (Thomson, 2015).
Leadership development encompasses any activity aimed at improving a person’s leadership abilities. It can be achieved through formal and informal interventions, and programs can be individualized or organizational (Hernez-Broome & Hughes, 2004). Leadership development offers organizations a competitive advantage as it creates and nurtures new leaders and helps existing leaders navigate change (CCL Staff, 2020). A good leadership development program should develop one’s self-awareness, leadership values, communication skills, the ability to lead others, strategic and creative thinking, and the ability to initiate and implement change (Velsor et al., 2010).
Internal vs. External Development Programs
There is no clear scholarly preference for internal or external leadership development programs. However, both come with pros and cons. Internal development programs have the advantage of a lower cost and a better understanding of organizational norms. However, they also face confidentiality issues and potential gaps in leadership knowledge (Anderson, n.d.). On the other hand, external development programs offer specialized skillsets by a leadership-trained professional and are less affected by company politics. But, they also come with a higher cost, and the trainer may be unfamiliar with the organization’s norms (Angle, 2018; Gurchiek, 2016).
Studies suggest that an integrated approach to leadership development, combining both internal and external resources, is the most reliable and sustainable way for organizations to build their leadership capacity (Heldenbrand & Simms, 2012; McNally & Lukens, 2006; Weiss & Molinaro, 2006). However, many organizations are still unwilling or unable to provide leadership development, resulting in a mismatch between the need for leadership development and its implementation.
The Benefits of Leadership Development
Leadership development has numerous benefits when done correctly. Trained leaders are more likely to be better leaders and can significantly benefit the organization and its bottom line (Chaimongkonrojna, 2011; Hayward, 2011). While the emphasis on leadership development usually falls on positional leaders, organizations need to understand that it is not exclusive to those in leadership positions. Employee development programs, for example, can improve employee morale and productivity (Fenech, 2013).
The five branches of the U.S. military dedicate substantial resources to leadership development and encourage their members to participate in government or civilian strategic thinking and leadership training. This is a testament to the importance of leadership development in today’s world (Kirchner & Akdere, 2017; U.S. Naval Air Systems Command, 2019).
Leadership development is not just limited to positional leaders. It can be extended to other employees, including front-line supervisors and managers, to improve their leadership abilities. Such programs can lead to better teamwork, improved communication, and increased innovation (SHRM, n.d.).
Leadership development is a strategic necessity for organizations to thrive in today’s rapidly changing business environment. While internal and external development programs both have their pros and cons, an integrated approach combining both is the best way to build organizational leadership capacity. Organizations that invest in leadership development can reap numerous benefits, including better-trained leaders, improved employee morale and productivity, and a more positive organizational culture.
Anderson, B. (n.d.). Overcoming 5 barriers to internal leadership development. IIDM. https://www.iidmglobal.com/expert_talk/expert-talk-categories/managing-people/leadership_talent/id80704-overcoming-5-barriers-to-internal-leadership-development.html
Angle, A. (2018, September 10). Internal versus external coaching: What’s the best approach for your organization? Training Industry. https://trainingindustry.com/articles/leadership/internal-versus-external-coaching-whats-the-best-approach-for-your-organization/
CCL Staff. (2020, November 20). 4 reasons to invest in leadership development. Leading Effectively. https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/why-leadership-development-is-important-4-reasons-to-invest/
Chaimongkonrojna, T. (2011). The impact of full range leadership development on leadership performance and effective leadership behavior. AU-GSB E-Journal, 4(2), 56–69. https://search.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/impact-full-range-leadership-development-on/docview/2384093731/se-2?accountid=10378
Fenech, S. (2013). Leadership development during times of reform. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(1), 89–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/183693911303800114
Gurchiek, K. (2016, September 18). Should your organization use internal coaches? Shrm – Organizational & Employee Development. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/pages/does-your-organization-use-internal-coaches.aspx
Hayward, S. (2011). Connecting leadership development to bottom line benefits. Strategic HR Review, 10(1), 28–34. https://doi.org/10.1108/14754391111091788
Heldenbrand, L., & Simms, M. (2012). Missing link: Integrated individual leadership development, employee engagement, and customer value-added improvement. Performance Improvement, 51(2), 28–35. https://doi.org/10.1002/pfi.21247
Hernez-Broome, G., & Hughes, R. (2004). Leadership development: Past, present, and future. Human Resource Planning, 27(1), 24–32. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=buh&AN=13598967&site=ehost-live
Kirchner, M., & Akdere, M. (2017). Military leadership development strategies: implications for training in non-military organizations. Industrial and Commercial Training, 49(7), 357–364. https://doi.org/10.1108/ICT-06-2017-0047
McNally, K., & Lukens, R. (2006). Leadership development: An external-internal coaching partnership. JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration, 36(3), 155–161. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005110-200603000-00010
SHRM. (n.d.). Developing organizational leaders. Toolkits. https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/Pages/developingorganizationalleaders.aspx
Thomson, L. (2015). Developing employees into leaders [Fact sheet]. LinkedIn Learning. https://learning.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/learning/en-us/pdfs/lil-guide-developing-employees-into-leaders.pdf
U.S. Naval Air Systems Command. (2019, May 28). Two employees discover the benefits of leadership development [Press release]. Targeted News Service. https://search.proquest.com/newspapers/naval-air-systems-command-two-employees-discover/docview/2231315663/se-2?accountid=10378
Velsor, E. V., McCauley, C., & Ruderman, M. (2010). The Center for Creative Leadership handbook of leadership development. (3rd ed.). Jossey-Bass.
Weiss, D., & Molinaro, V. (2006). Integrated leadership development. Industrial and Commercial Training, 38(1), 3–11. https://doi.org/10.1108/00197850610700763