You have many options for continuing your education, from conferences to traditional college courses. For seasoned professionals wanting to level up in their careers, one option provides both a short format and personalized, expert-level instruction.

Leadership development programs typically last two to five days and are led by an instructor (or group of instructors) with extensive experience leading organizations and managing teams. These programs offer the educational and networking benefits of a traditional course, but in a short format that won’t disrupt your already busy schedule. 

But with many options out there, it’s hard to know where to start when choosing a program. In this post, you can learn more about the who and why of leadership programs, as well as tips on how to choose the right one for you. 

Purpose of Leadership Development Programs 

Every organization needs strong leaders to steer it in the right direction. That is why many businesses send their best employees to leadership development training. 

Leadership development programs distill research-based leadership skills into practical lectures and activities, allowing participants to practice skills in real-life scenarios. These experiences lay the foundation to enable participants to lead their businesses successfully — today and into the future.

“A good leadership development program enables you to try on behaviors while you’re in the program. There is no shortage of great content out there, but acquiring content alone has little material impact on your ability to lead. Experimenting, trying on new behaviors, reflecting and learning from real-life experience are all critical as you build new skills as a leader,” says instructor Julie Jungalwala. 

The programs incorporate case studies, roleplay scenarios, and leadership-building activities, as well as group debrief opportunities and individual time to reflect. These give employees hands-on learning experiences and prepare them to face similar challenges in the real world.

Why Are Leadership Skills Important?

“There is a well-worn saying in the field of learning and development: ‘What if we spend all of these development dollars and they leave? What are we going to do?’ Followed by the response, ‘Well, what if we don’t develop them and they stay?’” says Jungalwala.

Being proactive in developing your leadership skills doesn’t just make sense for you as an individua l— there’s also a good business case to be made for this training. Learning these skills in a safe space takes away the pressure of making mistakes, allowing rising leaders the opportunity to grow and reflect with a diverse group of peers on a similar developmental path, according to Jungalwala. 

Leadership training utilizes leading-edge research in important leadership skills such as coaching, ethical decision making and emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a core leadership skill, it is essential for team-building and clear communication, both skills that effective leadership requires. 

The Impact of a Leadership Development Program 

Attendees of leadership development programs report improvements in their self-confidence, self-awareness, and communication skills. Those who are already working return to their workplaces equipped with knowledge of — and practice in — key leader characteristics. Plus, attendees have the advantage of global networking opportunities where they may meet lasting connections. 

Leadership programs also enable people to identify their existing strengths and develop new skills. And learning as an adult has added benefits, according to instructor Jill Abruzese Slye

“I think the leadership skills people take away in more of an adult frame of mind—where they can execute and go back to work and say, OK, this is something new that I learned—they get people excited and motivated. Most successful leaders are life learners and can appreciate bringing new creative and innovative approaches back to their companies,” says Slye. 

“You can learn about leadership in your undergrad. But until you actually have that real-world context for it, it might not stick.” 

Who Can Benefit from Leadership Training?

Leadership development programs are beneficial for employers and employees alike. Employers should always be proactive in developing leaders. Employees who have enrolled in a leadership development program may feel more confident in management roles, making them good candidates for advancement.

But it’s not just aspiring leaders and managers who stand to benefit from professional development programs. 

Jungalwala says, “We need leaders at all levels. We need more people taking an active role in shaping the organizations of tomorrow, leaders who can inspire us toward a better future and enable us to collaborate and take action.”

If you’re in a creative or technical role, learning leadership skills can help you more effectively manage projects, communicate with your team, resolve conflicts, and negotiate with your managers when it comes time to talk about career development. 

“In a nutshell, because these programs can be an asset regardless of specific role, purpose, or position, everyone who wants to expand their learning and fine tune their skills will benefit,” says Slye. 

How Can Having Leadership Skills Make You a More Marketable Job Candidate?

Every leader develops their own unique leadership style. However, there are a few universal key leadership skills that can increase your success in the job market:

  • Integrity. Being a person of integrity means staying true to your values and the values of your organization. 
  • Empathy. Senior leaders use empathy to see things from another person’s perspective. They create connections and work past miscommunications.
  • Reliability. Reliable people demonstrate effective leadership by setting achievable goals. They build trust with their coworkers, which fosters employee engagement.
  • Communication. Clear communication makes businesses flourish. Eloquent leaders lay out specific goals and the steps necessary to reach those goals.
  • Delegation skills. A truly effective leader knows when to let someone else handle a project. Delegation can be a time-saving measure or a humble acknowledgment of a coworker’s superior skillset.

Including these skills on a resume is good. Explaining how you learned these skills is even better. Anyone can declare themselves a good leader, but not everyone has spent extra time in a program to improve their leadership skills. Telling employers about leadership development programs you have attended attests to your willingness to put in the work of becoming a future leader.

What To Look For in a Leadership Development Program

It is important to know what to look for in a leadership development program. Luckily, you’ll know a credible program when you see one because it will give you up front details about the program — including topics covered, cost, and time commitment — as well as information about your instructor or instructional team. 

Jungalwala says “Ask yourself what you hope to learn in the program and why it matters for what’s next in your career or life. Use that as the filter through which you’re looking at all of these many, many development opportunities right now.”

If you want to learn about leadership qualities that are specific to your field, you might pick a program focused on your industry. 

However, know that many of the same skills apply across multiple fields. And participating in a program with people from diverse industries may give you some groundbreaking new perspective. 

“Don’t stay in your comfort zone. Push yourself,” says Slye. “If you see a program that you’re pushing back on a little, ask yourself why you’re pushing back. If there is no apparent or good reason, then dive in take the challenge!”

Leadership development programs should consist of small, focused groups. Small groups enable the facilitators to engage with each person one-on-one. The facilitators should be experienced instructors from trusted organizations. 

What should you avoid in a leadership development program?

Avoid programs that lack clear structure. Good leadership training courses have organized schedules with well-structured and diverse learning experiences: lectures, video presentations, roleplay sessions, case studies etc.

Additionally, you may want to avoid programs that do not give details about the general content, class size, class format, and what to expect from the learning experience in general. Absence of this information means you won’t be able to weigh the cost and benefits of the program before you invest.

Why Should Companies Employ Leadership Development Programs?

Often, companies will send groups of employees to development programs, where teams can develop a shared language and understanding of new methods and frameworks. Some organizations, including Harvard DCE Professional & Executive Development, also offer custom programs to companies with specific needs. 

“I’ve watched people come away with more connectivity within their organization because they get to look at things outside of that normal scope,” says Slye. 

“My programs ask you to step a little bit outside your comfort zone, but we do it as a group. And it’s a safe environment. [My fellow PED instructors and I] try to create a safe place for people to really understand that we’re all in the same mindset of trying to improve ourselves. That, alone, brings people together.”

Rising managers are at a transitional point in their careers, which means they are primed to learn new information. Leadership development programs help them strengthen their existing skills and identify areas for improvement.

Experienced executives may think they no longer need leadership training, but they can also learn from a good program. Workplace expectations change over time, and senior leaders must change as well. 

How can having a leadership development program improve your workplace culture?

Leadership development programs improve workplace culture by making attendees feel more confident, which, in turn, makes them more productive and willing to take initiative. Plus, leadership programs are great for networking.

Importantly, offering professional development opportunities to employees shows them that you’re invested in them and willing to take real steps to help them advance. These benefits have been shown to improve employee retention and satisfaction, which is good for the whole organization. 

“I think it’s almost like a hygiene factor these days to offer really well-supported learning and development opportunities for staff and managers,” says Jungalwala. 

“People will leave your company if you’re not developing leaders who know how to develop people and get the best out of them and take the organization forward.” 

Next Steps

Nothing can beat the impact of the in-person or online instruction provided by Harvard DCE Professional & Executive Development. 

Whether you are a senior leader sending top employees to a leadership development program or a rising manager attending yourself, you and your organization will benefit greatly from the skills you will learn by participating in our programs.