Transform Your Organization with Simple, Proven Leadership Development Strategies

June 25, 2024

Developing effective leaders is a top priority for executives across the globe. With over 57,000 books on leadership available on a leading online bookseller, it’s clear that there is a wealth of information—and confusion—on the topic. This article aims to cut through the noise and present a straightforward, reliable strategy to leadership development that any organization can adopt.

Define Your Leadership Development Goals

One of the fundamental challenges in leadership development is the lack of clarity about the ultimate goal. The ancient wisdom of Confucius, “He who chases two rabbits catches neither,” aptly applies here. Organizations often pursue two distinct objectives in leadership development:

  1. Preparing Future C-Suite Executives: Many firms focus on developing a pool of high-potential employees ready to step into key leadership roles. Success is measured by the ability to fill senior positions internally without needing external hires.
  2. Improving Leadership at All Levels: A broader, more ambitious goal is to enhance the leadership skills of all leaders within the organization. The idea is that by improving everyday leadership behaviors, the organization will naturally produce strong candidates for senior roles. Although this approach appears more challenging, it is likely to yield more significant long-term benefits.

We argue that the second goal—improving leadership behavior across the board—is achievable and offers a more guaranteed payoff for most organizations. It sets a target of improving the leadership behavior of all leaders in the organization. It assumes that if all leaders improve their daily performance, several will emerge as optimum candidates for the most senior roles. This has been seen as a bigger and seemingly more formidable challenge. Few organizations have made this their avowed target.

Steps to Achieve Goal #2

To realize this broader goal, follow these simple steps:

  1. Implement a Proven Development Process: Choose a leadership development process that has a demonstrated track record of changing behavior. This process should be continuous and revisited frequently, with accountability as a key component.
  2. Involve a Significant Percentage of Leaders: Engage a substantial portion of your leaders in this development process.
  3. Commit to Long-Term Implementation: Sustain these efforts over an extended period.

Case Studies: Proven Results

Insurance Organization

An insurance company with 7,000 employees implemented a 360-degree feedback process for senior middle managers. Over nine years, more than 100 managers participated annually. Initially, managers scored at the 56th percentile for leadership effectiveness. Over the next six years, scores improved to the 62nd percentile and then to the 70th percentile. These statistically significant improvements suggest that enhanced leadership behaviors had a cascading positive effect throughout the organization.

Prestigious University

A similar process was implemented at a renowned university, with data spanning 16 years. Leadership effectiveness scores improved from the 57th percentile to the 73rd percentile in four-year increments. Again, these statistically significant gains highlight the effectiveness of sustained leadership development efforts.

Leadership Development Strategies: The Key to Success

While the proposed steps are simple, they are not quick fixes. Success requires a sustained commitment. Additional actions, such as involving immediate managers, providing rotational assignments, and engaging in mentoring projects, can further enhance outcomes. These elements, however, are supplementary to the core process of involving a large number of leaders in a proven development program over a long period.


The path to effective leadership development is accessible to any organization willing to invest time and effort. By following a straightforward, sustained approach, organizations can cultivate a robust leadership pipeline and foster an environment of continuous improvement. This reliable strategy is not a secret but a practical solution available to all who seek to develop their leaders for long-term success.

  • Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman