Leadership Development: A Strategic Necessity

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.


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