The Parallel Universe of Leadership Development and Employee Needs

This week I had two productive and enjoyable networking meetings. The first was with an energetic, new graduate headed out to bring fresh ideas to the HR world. The second was with a wise professional who has provided me and many others with valuable insights during during her career.

Interestingly, during my conversations with both of them – the enthusiastic new graduate and the seasoned HR professional – the topic of leadership development came up. Both felt that the need for better leaders continues to grow and that leadership development is as important to address as any other aspect of talent management. Backing this up, global CEOs have identified improved leadership development practices as a top five human capital strategy

A lot has been written over the last few years about the ROI of leadership development. An article in McKinsey Quarterly accused U.S. companies of lavishing $14 billion per year on programs to nurture their leaders while seeing little in return. The Wall Street Journal ran an article a few years ago titled “So Much Training, So Little to Show for It.” And the authors of an October 2016 article in Harvard Business Review referred to leadership development programs as the “great training robbery.”

That was then. This is now. A recent study conducted by Development Dimensions International looked at leaders who completed on average five courses from a leadership development program designed to improve business and interpersonal skills.

What they found is that leadership development really does work: 82% of managers, peers and direct reports of people trained cited higher frequency of observed positive leadership behaviors among leaders after they had completed development courses.

It’s not hard to draw a parallel between what employees are looking for, and how certain positive leadership behaviors might contribute. Gallup released a report recently, “3 Reasons Why Performance Development Wins in the Workplace”, in which they identified the following four things employees need from their managers. I’ve taken the leap to identify leadership competencies that align:

Employee Need Leadership Competency
Job clarity and priorities Directs and Manages Others
Ongoing feedback and communication Effective Informal Communication; Demonstrates Loyalty and Commitment
Accountability Inspires Accountability and Teamwork
Opportunities to learn and grow Commits Time and Effort To Increase Professional Development; Coaches Direct Reports


See how that works? Easy peasy!

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Jackie Messersmith is President and CEO of Talent Management LLC. Talent Management provides consulting services to small to mid-size businesses to put an employee engagement culture and talent strategy in place, and is the developer of Talent Snapshot®, an integrated, competency based, online talent management solutions. Jackie can be reached at 513-528-9700 or