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What is Leadership Development?


Leadership development is any activity designed to improve a person’s competency as a leader. Knowing how to implement a structured leadership development strategy can be essential to establishing an organization-wide leadership culture, which can aid in cultivating new leaders within a company and encouraging veteran leaders to continue honing their leadership proficiencies. Master of Leadership programs offer students hands-on opportunities to build their leadership acumen through participation in a range of lectures and academic activities—ranging from holding class discussions, to more complex activities, like administering mock employee coaching sessions. In addition to promoting specific leadership skills, like communication, in their graduates, leadership programs also teach future leaders how to construct leadership development programs that help employees develop similar leadership skills over time.

Common Strategies Used in Leadership Development Programs

In a Master of Science in Leadership program’s coursework, students can learn how to create and administer leadership development strategies. A leadership development strategy featuring a combination of the following methods can be used to improve the leadership expertise of employees from any professional background.

Offer Leadership Growth Opportunities Targeted for Each Position

A common first step in establishing a leadership development program is defining which leadership competencies are most valuable to the organization’s success. The preferred qualities may differ from position to position, so it is important for leaders to dictate which leadership skills are required for each role in their organization. By identifying these necessary competencies, senior leaders can produce leadership development strategies that help employees grow and excel in their roles.

Consider a scenario wherein the information technology department of a large company is struggling to communicate daily objectives to all members of the team. In response, the leaders of that department could select the top-performing employees to receive additional training aimed at improving their ability to communicate as leaders. Over time, the individuals who are given those leadership growth opportunities can pick up the skills they need to lead local efforts to improve communications within their departments. This leadership development method can give less experienced employees a valuable chance to pick up the skills they need to advance their career, while also helping companies and organizations fill their demand for vital leadership talent.

Structured Progression Through a Company or Organization

According to Forbes, developing leaders from within an organization is an inherently smart business move. Promoting employees into leadership roles requires that the company have access to qualified talent, and knowing how to implement a structured route for progression through an organization can help leaders develop the in-house talent they need. 

Structured progression refers to any system that dictates when employees should be granted promotions or expanded work responsibilities or privileges. Such systems can be used by companies to make sure that employees know what they need to do in order to be considered for promotions. The prerequisites are typical milestones that are tied to tenure or specific achievements, such as obtaining an advanced degree, generating a certain amount of revenue or performing exceptionally well during a set period of time. Clearly stating the path to leadership positions can give high-performing employees something to look forward to, possibly preventing them from seeking work elsewhere to progress their careers.

Learning from Real-World Examples

The ability to teach leadership using real-world examples is a critical tool for a leader. The popular maxim “history repeats itself” applies to many aspects of life, especially in the context of business. Teaching employees how to learn from their experiences and those of others can give them a tangible representation of what effective leadership is supposed to look like. For instance, if employees display admirable leadership skills over the course of a project, the company should make an effort to discuss why their actions are commendable, how they contributed to the success of the project, and explain how other employees can emulate them in their own roles. Managers can also conduct employee reviews to offer direct praise to their employees regarding the leadership skills they currently exhibit.

The skills that exemplify good leadership will vary across disciplines, therefore it’s important that senior leaders spotlight leaders from as many different professional backgrounds as possible. When employees are exposed to different examples of effective leadership, they can identify which leadership styles fit them best and incorporate them into their own work.

Improved Leadership Culture

A leadership culture encourages employees to independently pursue leadership development opportunities to qualify for higher ranking positions. Thus, what is leadership development’s role in building a leadership culture? When companies offer meaningful incentives to employees who have a strong aptitude for leadership, they make development opportunities a more worthwhile endeavor. These incentives can be material payoffs such as promotions or increased compensation, or less tangible rewards like prestige within the organization.  

In a company with a strong leadership culture, management personnel can spend less time micromanaging their staff and instead focus on more pressing administrative tasks. This is because a leadership culture cultivates trustworthy employees that are able to keep each other working productively without constant management. In the end, both groups benefit — the managers can spend more time addressing important business affairs, while the employees can have more autonomy and control over their work. These benefits, combined with the higher earning potential available to skilled leaders, means companies that foster a leadership culture can provide more job satisfaction to their employees.

Successful organizations develop effective leaders. With a leadership development program in place, companies can produce practiced leaders who understand how to keep their teams consistently performing well above expectations. Earning a Master of Science in Leadership degree can help professionals acquire the expertise they will need to leverage leadership development programs to improve their businesses and empower colleagues and employees.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership program is designed to help you demonstrate the skills and knowledge needed to lead teams and inspire progress, while also growing your career. The program is practical and pertinent, allowing students to apply leadership concepts immediately to their careers.

Recommended Reading:

6 Ways Leaders Can Improve Team Productivity

Top 4 Careers in Leadership

8 Great Government Leaders of the Past Century


Evaluate Your Leadership Development Program, Harvard Business Review

Four Tips For Constructing A Leadership Development Program, Forbes

Developing Leaders from Within, Forbes


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