Leadership development program: What it is and why you need one

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Only 11% of organizations believe they have a strong bench to fill leadership positions, according to the Global Leadership Forecast 2021-and it’s the lowest rate global consulting firm DDI has seen in a decade.

So how can companies bring that number up and satisfy their leadership needs? And how can MBA and master’s graduates become the leaders they hope to be?

For both, one potential answer is a leadership development program, which sources recent graduates from master’s programs for training, mentorship, and ultimately, placement in a senior position. An LDP is mutually beneficial for employers and employees, allowing companies to form their future leaders and recent graduates to shape their career trajectory.

Whether you’re an employer or a job seeker, a leadership development program can help you further your goals in ways that traditional employee roles can’t.

But first, what exactly is a leadership development program?

Table of contents
What is a leadership development program?
Leadership development program examples
Leadership development program framework
Benefits of a leadership development program
A leadership development program can be the stepping stone you and your organization need

What is a leadership development program?

A leadership development program is created by an employer to identify, train and promote emerging leaders. It usually consists of rotational placements, training, coaching and mentoring for candidates to land a senior leadership position by the program’s end.

While it is a program, an LDP is also a job; it is recruited for and salaried like a full-time role, so you’ll often see entry-level job listings for an LDP.

This kind of program is typically designed for MBA or other master’s graduates, but occasionally, it’s open to existing employees as well.

Leadership development program examples

If you want a better idea of how leadership development programs work in real life, check out some of these prominent LDPs and examine how they’re structured. You might get a good idea of whether you should start such a program for your organization or participate in one yourself.

AT&T Leadership Development Program

Eligibility: People in their final year of their MBA or Master’s program or those who’ve finished one within the last year. They must also have 3-10 years of full-time work experience.

Length: 2.5 years

AT&T’s Leadership Development Program has been around for 31 years. Participants have the opportunity to lead large teams, take part in Harvard-led courses and partner with other leaders to solve real business cases. They also get on-the-job learning, rotations, networking, mentorship and a chance to work alongside industry leaders. AT&T’s program has a preference for technical undergrad degrees and provides relocation assistance to one of its locations in California, Texas, and Georgia.

Chevron Finance & Commercial MBA Program

Eligibility: 3+ years of pre-MBA work experience, permanent U.S. work authorization

Length: 2 years

Established in 1946, Chevron's Finance & Commercial MBA Program's reputation is tough to beat. Alumni of the program have landed roles as CEO, CFO, Executive Vice President and other senior management positions. FCMP participants complete four six-month rotations, including the possibility of international opportunities. Participants are assigned a Program Manager who is an FCMP alumnus to guide them throughout their leadership journey. Rotational assignments span the globe from California to Thailand to Nigeria and could be in areas such as Corporate Treasury, Upstream Finance, Investor Relations, Business Development and more.

Cigna Marketing Leadership Development Program

Eligibility: Rising seniors pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Marketing or students in their final year of an MBA program with a concentration in Marketing

Length: 3 to 4.5 years. Participants complete three rotations, which last about 12-18 months each

Cigna's Marketing Leadership Development Program (MLDP) actually begins with a 10-week summer internship. Interns who excel are then offered a full-time role in the MLDP. Participants are paired with a senior leader and peer advisor for personalized mentorship, and their development focuses on marketing technical skills, business acumen and soft skills. The program takes place in Missouri or Connecticut, and it provides housing for out-of-state interns. Full-time members can expect to rotate through areas such as Brand, Customer Experience, Field Marketing, Social Media and more.

Lockheed Martin Engineering Leadership Development Program

Eligibility: According to the website, the ELDP is open to “graduating engineering majors and professionals with some work experience.”

Length: 3 years; 3-4 rotations

Lockheed Martin has leadership development programs in communications, engineering, finance, human resources, operations and security, but for this example, we’ll focus on engineering. In Lockheed Martin’s Engineering LDP, participants do three or four rotations throughout the three-year program and receive coaching, mentoring and training. They also get to attend two leadership development conferences and one technical leadership conference. Lockheed provides tuition reimbursement to help participants finish their master’s degree.

Leadership development program framework

Length

Leadership development programs usually span two to three years. And LDP’s length depends on how many rotations the company wants hires to complete, how complex each role is, and how in-depth they must go in each rotation.

Rotations

Leadership development programs are rotational in nature, meaning the participant changes job roles or departments every six to 12 months, giving them exposure to new areas and contacts that can help them post-program.

If you’re creating an LDP, consider which parts of your organization you’d like to expose your participants to. For example, a finance LDP might rotate candidates from Mergers & Acquisitions to Investor Relations to Business Development.

Coaching and mentoring

LDP participants are typically paired with a senior leader who guides them through the journey, providing coaching and mentoring to help them succeed. This person might be an LDP alumnus themselves or someone in a role that the candidate wishes to pursue.

What’s the difference between mentoring and coaching? A candidate receives mentoring from someone who is in a position they hope to be in one day. A mentor guides the mentee to follow in their footsteps.

On the other hand, a candidate receives coaching from someone who isn’t necessarily in the role they hope to achieve. A coach’s job is to probe the client’s mind with insightful questions, uncovering blind spots and helping them to come to the best decision about their career. A coach is also a good accountability partner, ensuring that the person is on track to reach their goals.

Don’t have anyone in your organization trained in coaching? We’ve got you covered! F4S offers personalized online coaching to help your LDP candidates improve their leadership skills and grow in their career. We recommend Personal Power, an eight-week program that boosts your confidence and prepares you to step into leadership roles by understanding the influence of good politics and overcoming limiting beliefs about power.

Reimbursement

You may choose to reimburse hires for relocation expenses if they must move to a new city to participate in the program. Further, you may choose to reimburse them for tuition so they can complete their degree.

Networking

The opportunity to grow one’s network is a huge draw for many LDP candidates. Provide them with opportunities to meet industry professionals and senior leaders as well as connect with the broader alumni network.

Job placement

Of course, the biggest draw of all is landing a senior role after the program has finished. Before the LDP even begins, the types of roles that the hire may end up in should be discussed, and the program should be tailored to help them excel in such roles. While you may not be able to guarantee an exact job title, you should be able to give your LDP candidates a general idea of the types of permanent positions they may be offered post-program should they successfully complete their assignments.

Benefits of a leadership development program

For the employer

Better succession planning

Planning ahead for qualified candidates to replace departing senior executives is critical to business success. LDPs can help you not only to identify these replacements but also shape their formation so that they are prepared to take on these roles in the future.

Improved talent pipeline

Sourcing top talent is a challenge for any organization, and the benefit of a leadership development program is that you can snag these emerging leaders early on, right upon graduation, and have greater control in their development as leaders. That way, as your company grows, you can fill those positions with candidates you know are excellent.

Boosted performance

By sourcing top candidates and providing them with mentoring and coaching, companies can boost the performance of their leaders, and ultimately, their entire organization.

Better bottom line

Of course, employers want to see a high return on their investments into a leadership development program. One way they can see this is through improving their hiring. We all know the high cost of a bad hire. With an LDP, you can reduce those costs because you’ll hire participants to a permanent role only after spending two to three years developing them. And in the Leadership Transitions Report 2021, DDI found that when you hire executives internally, they have a 25% greater chance for success than those you hire externally.

For the employee

Variety

In what other job could you switch positions every six months while maintaining employment at the same company and nurturing relationships with the same peers and mentors? If you want the most variety in on-the-job training, an LDP provides a safe space to try out different careers with the stability of a salary and working in the same company.

Upward mobility

The end result of a leadership development program is for the candidate to move up to a senior leadership position. Few entry-level positions will allow the kind of upward mobility that an LDP provides.

Fast track your career

Usually, you’ll end up in leadership positions in a shorter timeframe than if you had entered the company in a regular role.

Grow your network

LDP members typically have greater access to senior executives and an alumni network-something that regular employees don’t get. It can be like being part of an exclusive club where members support each other throughout their career journey.

Receive mentorship and coaching

Never underestimate the value of mentorship and coaching to reach your career goals. A leadership development program provides you with both of these benefits, something regular employees don’t always get to enjoy.

Finish your degree on your company’s dime

Some companies will provide tuition reimbursement for you to finish your master’s degree. Remember that they’re doing this because they’re investing in your future with them as a high-value employee. So if you need the extra financial support to pursue your education, an LDP might be for you.

Should I Do a Leadership Development Program?

While there are numerous benefits to participating in an LDP, there are drawbacks too. You get tons of variety, but because rotations can be as short as six months, that comes at the cost of depth. You may only get a superficial idea of the role before you have to move on to your next one.

An LDP can also be up to four years of commitment to one organization, so if you get one year into it and realize this isn’t the company or the field you want to stick with, you could find yourself in a complicated situation; you don’t want to ruin the connections you’ve made there, but you also don’t want to stick around in a place you’ve decided isn’t for you. Be aware that if you leave early, you might have to pay your company back for the benefits it provided, such as relocation fees or tuition reimbursement.

A leadership development program can be the stepping stone you and your organization need

As you can see, both job seekers and companies pursue leadership development programs as a smart investment into their future. Employees gain access to a network of alumni and senior execs, receive on-the-job training in a variety of roles and are put on the fast track to a senior leadership position. Employers tap into top talent fresh out of MBA and master’s programs, have control over how these emerging leaders develop and ensure excellent candidates for their succession planning.

Leadership shapes the culture and performance of every organization. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to ensure a promising future for yours.

Coaching is a critical element in every leadership development program. Sign up for our free Personal Power program to become a stronger leader at work.

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