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Leadership development in the digital age

Develop, strengthen, and retain leaders.


Leadership development is a key task for companies. It is the responsibility of corporate management and personnel development. The ability to motivate, inspire, and lead employees are crucial attributes for successful leaders. After all, it is good managers who to bring out the best in individual teams in order to increase productivity and bolster company success. So it is vitally important to invest in the development of your leaders. We show you six steps for developing your leaders, and point out the mistakes they make it easier for you to avoid.


Definition: What is leadership development?

Leadership development refers to the process of training managers in a company. This is a central responsibility of the human resources department. HR is responsible for planning, organizing, and delivering appropriate leadership development programs.  Continually developing your managers improves and expands their leadership skills and abilities. The aim is to ensure successful and efficient management for your company. Leadership development therefore focuses amongst other things on teaching leadership skills, expanding social skills, promoting communication skills, improving employee motivation, and strengthening leadership. The targeted development of executives ensures your company will remain competitive and future-proof.


Why is leadership development so important?

Leadership development has enormous potential for companies that want to foster healthy growth. It is an important investment in your company’s future that brings long-term benefits.
Successful managers make a significant contribution to the success of a company. Competent managers are able to motivate and inspire their employees, communicate a clear vision, and create a positive culture at work. As a result, employees work more effectively and achieve better results, which is in turn reflected in higher sales and profits.
In addition, effective leadership development helps to reduce staff turnover. Employees who are led by competent executives usually feel more comfortable. They are more inclined to be loyal to the company. This significantly reduces the cost of hiring and training new employees. Bearing in mind the shortage of skilled workers, it is cheaper and more effective to train and develop managers internally instead of recruiting them. 
Leadership development creates a successful corporate culture, because managers have a major influence on it. They help to create a work environment that heightens employee satisfaction and productivity. Great leaders motivate their team to perform to the best of their ability. This also enhances your company’s reputation, attracts workers with expertise, and gives your company a competitive edge.


The biggest challenges for leaders

As a manager, one of the biggest challenges is balancing company expectations with employee needs. A leader must be able to set clear goals and expectations, while at the same time taking into account the individual needs and viewpoints of staff. This is a balancing act. Focusing too much on results can lead to employee needs being neglected. Focusing too much on employee needs, however, can lead to ineffective working and targets not being met. On the one hand, your managers need empathy in order to understand employees and their circumstances as well as possible. On the other hand, they must also be goal-oriented and good communicators, both with top management and their own team.
Executives are role models who lead by example. Not always an easy task. Leaders need to be able to earn their employees’ trust and respect. This means that they must themselves have a high degree of integrity and a sound set of ethics. They have to live and breathe the company’s values and rules. 
Particularly in these fast-paced times, leaders need to react quickly to change. They need to adapt their goals and even their leadership style if necessary. This requires flexibility and the ability to identify and manage risks.
Motivating your employees is one of the most important parts of a manager’s job. Recognizing employee strengths and cultivating them is an art in itself. It requires a great deal of empathy as well as the ability to deploy effective coaching and mentoring methods.
Last but not least, leaders need to press ahead with their own development. They must constantly work on their own skills and keep expanding their knowledge. This includes skills such as strategic thinking, problem solving, time management, and communication. Overall, leadership requires a set of competencies and skills that need to be continually developed and adapted.


The responsibilities of HR and personnel development in leadership development

As a rule, leadership development is the responsibility of human resource management (HR) and personnel development. They have an overview of the company’s needs and requirements. They develop targeted programs and initiatives to help leaders improve their skills and performance. HR and personnel development identify the people with the appropriate talents and identify the training courses and development opportunities they need. They help executives implement changes in the company and promote a positive corporate culture. In leadership development today, HR and personnel development play a facilitative and supportive role. They pave the way for employees who want to become managers, and support managers with further development.

Nadine Pedro
[Translate to English:] Nadine Pedro, chemmedia AG

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Leadership development content

The content of leadership development programs differs depending on the industry and the company. The new managers are prepared for all the important tasks and challenges that lie ahead in the company where they work. Roughly speaking, development programs can be divided into two areas: soft skills and hard skills.


Hard skills

Hard skills refer to the knowledge required to work in a specific company area or department. On the one hand, this includes the relevant expertise for the department, for instance project management, marketing, or finance. It also covers knowledge of technologies, tools, and methods.

Soft skills

Soft skills, also known as power skills, are leadership skills such as communication, team leadership, conflict resolution, time management, empathy, mentoring, and coaching. These skills are critical for effective team leadership and for fostering a positive corporate culture.


Tip: Put together an individual learning plan and syllabus for each leader. Every individual has their own strengths and weaknesses that can be used as the basis for a successful development strategy. First determine what your prospective manager’s role will be going forwards. This will allow you to work out the hard and soft skills they need.


Leadership development methods

Leadership development methods are as diverse as prospective leaders’ needs. When selecting your method, take account of your managers’ individual strengths and weaknesses. The specifics of your company and your company culture are also important factors.



Young aspiring managers in particular can benefit enormously from a mentoring program. Mentors don’t have to come from the same company. External mentors can be very enriching, as they bring fresh perspectives. Internal mentors are great for showing aspiring leaders the ropes and familiarizing them with corporate culture. Mentor and mentee can exchange views both in real time and asynchronously. If you are constantly developing managers, it is worth setting up an in-house mentoring program. Create a platform for exchanging views. Asynchronous exchange should preferably take place on the platform, where training materials and other courses can also be found. For a mentoring program to be successful, mentor and mentee should compare notes continuously and on the basis of trust.

Tip: Use an LMS (learning management system) as a platform where future managers and their mentors can exchange views. This allows you to control all activities centrally.


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Peer-to-peer learning

Rather than having mentors, prospective managers learn from each other. They exchange ideas, share what they have learned, and spur each other on. This can happen in regular group meetings and/or asynchronously. However, the social component is very important to these methods. Allow participants to have regular video meetings or, even better, meet face to face.



As a rule, coaches focus on a specific area that needs to be worked on. They provide training in the form of regular sessions, for example dealing with negotiating skills, resilience, or assertiveness. Coaching is very valuable for working on a particular weakness or learning new soft skills. 

Tip: A digital conversation trainer enables prospective executives to hone their soft skills in a safe environment. It’s very easy to provide digital training on conflict management, for example. A useful addition to live coaching and role-playing exercises.


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eLearning platforms are ideally suited to leadership development. Online courses, webinars, and interactive modules allow managers to learn at their own pace. With eLearning, you can hone your executives’ professional and methodological expertise, and social competence. Instead of having to organize complex face-to-face training courses, you facilitate a pleasant learning environment. Whether they’re in the office, at home, or on the train, your prospective managers will enjoy learning and do so at their own pace.

Tip: Instead of relying on external platforms, you can create your own eLearning courses in just a few steps. This allows you to strengthen your employees’ commitment to the intervention and adapt the content to suit the precise needs of your company. We will be happy to help you create your content.


On-the-job training

As the name implies, aspiring leaders learn on the job in real-world work situations. The advantage here is that prospective managers are doing productive work as they train. Putting what they learn straight into practice. Ideally they will be given continuous feedback to enable them to learn quickly. In addition to soft skills, on-the-job training also builds professional competencies


Designing a leadership development program in six steps

Designing a leadership development program in six steps

Designing a leadership development program is complex and time-consuming. However, the result is pretty much always worth it: You are rewarded with highly trained executives who are experts not only in their field and in team leadership, but also in your company. They are deeply rooted in your corporate culture and communicate it to their team. Here are the key steps for designing a successful leadership development program:


1. Identify your needs

Identify the development needs of your future executives. Highlight their strengths and weaknesses and pinpoint how things currently stand. Methods such as 360-degree feedback are great for this: prospective managers get feedback from all stakeholders.

2. Define development goals

Set clear and specific development goals. Tailored to each leader. Keep your sights set on company goals. What skills are important to your company? What time frame are you specifying? But make sure your goals are realistic. Unrealistic objectives quickly become demotivating.

3. Draw up development plans

Draw up a strategy to enable your aspiring leaders to achieve the development goals outlined. Your development plan should include practical methods and specific actions as well as a time frame. 

Tip:Individual learning paths enable you to provide prospective managers with a needs-oriented learning experience. This will make them more motivated and generally ensure they achieve their goals faster.

4. Put measures into practice

Complete the actions specified in your development plan. Depending on individuals’ starting point and pace of learning, leadership development may take several years. Stay on the ball and encourage your aspiring leaders not to lose sight of their goals.

5. Monitoring

Keep track of how your leadership development is progressing. Check whether sub-goals have been achieved and schedules are being adhered to. Conduct regular feedback interviews and performance reviews.

6. Fine-tune development plans

Adjust your development plans regularly to meet the individual needs of the prospective managers. Nothing is set in stone. Respond early to changes in the company or to company goals. Keep an eye on every individual’s learning speed and adjust schedules as necessary.


Dos and don’ts of leadership development

To develop your leaders, you should avoid known stumbling blocks and use tried-and-tested methods. Here are the most important dos and don’ts for successful leadership development:


Do’s – you should definitely do this

Leverage digital technology and automation

In order to develop executives productively and cost-effectively, digital methods are a must-have. Harness the power of eLearning and digital conversation trainers to give your prospective managers the ideal start. Once content is available, it can be used repeatedly and adapted quickly. Knowledge thus becomes institutionalized and can be passed on seamlessly to the next generation by older managers.

Create individual learning paths

Be sure to address your prospective managers’ individual needs . Individual learning paths allow you to set out a needs-oriented pathway that managers take at their own pace. Individualization creates freedom, improves learning outcomes, and accelerates development.

Use digital conversation trainers

Anyone like role-playing activities? Give participants in your development program the opportunity to learn how to handle different conversations digitally. Whether they’re dealing with conflict management, feedback meetings, or motivational speeches, your prospective managers can learn in a safe environment to begin with before applying their newly acquired skills on the job.

Keep up the motivation

This kind of leadership development program can be pretty exhausting. So keep your employees motivated. Award micro certificates, for example after they have completed an eLearning course, or incentives for partially achieving their goals.

Promoting knowledge transfer and knowledge exchange

Use your leadership development to promote knowledge transfer and exchange between managers. You can achieve this through peer learning, for example, or by participants sharing experiences and best practices. This ensures that the knowledge and skills possessed by managers in your company find a wider audience. A win-win situation for everyone.


Don’ts – avoid these mistakes

Turn employees who don’t want to be managers into executives

Got excellent specialists in your company and want to develop them into managers? Not everyone is suited to being a manager and not everyone wants to step back from their operational role. Leadership development should be reserved for those who really want it.

Lack of measurability

Leadership development needs to be measurable. How else can you tell if the goals you set have been met? Digital technologies give you plenty of options for making learning success measurable. They ensure that unsuccessful interventions will not cost you money in the long term.

Too much theory

Personnel management is a discipline that promotes and requires interpersonal communication. Let your prospective executives also gain practical experience. Learning by doing is a popular and successful approach to leadership development.

Overly short-term thinking

Leadership development is a long-term undertaking. No one becomes a leader overnight. It is better to design your strategy with the long view in mind, and follow up if necessary.

Isolating leadership development

Don’t think of leadership development as an isolated activity. Instead, make it an integral part of your company’s personnel development strategy. Take advantage of synergies between different development programs, thus fostering a holistic approach to personnel development.


The bottom line.

Leadership development is a key component of companies’ personnel development. Good leadership development helps improve managers’ skills and competencies, which in turn helps companies flourish. There are a range of leadership development methods and approaches. Starting with traditional training and education interventions through to digital learning formats and coaching programs. To ensure leadership development is successful, HR departments need to consider leaders’ individual needs. They should incorporate feedback and have a long-term strategy. Ultimately, it is not only managers but your entire company that will benefit from successful leadership development.

Nadine Pedro
[Translate to English:] Nadine Pedro, chemmedia AG
Nadine Pedro
Senior Marketing Manager

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