How Employers Can Develop Great Leaders at Scale

Employers need great leaders but most struggle to develop consistent, effective leadership at all levels of the organization.

leadership - Training Magazine

From the front line to the C-suite, employers need great leaders, but most struggle to develop consistent, effective leadership at all levels of the organization.

Brandon Hall Group research reveals three high-level reasons:

  1. They lack an organization-wide leadership model for how leaders think and act.
  2. They often conflate management competencies with leadership competencies.
  3. They can’t effectively scale their leadership development.


The endgame is great leadership development at scale. What makes that difficult is a divide on whether leadership development should be conducted using one model of how leaders should think and act or multiple models based on a leadership level.

In our qualitative research, we regularly speak with organizations that believe front-line, mid-level, and senior leaders each require different leadership skill sets. Our research also shows that 55 percent of organizations believe that developing business and management competencies is more important for leaders than foundational leadership competencies such as emotional intelligence, coaching, and mentoring.

But the tide is turning. Developing an organization-wide leadership model tops the priority list for this year, according to our HCM Outlook 2021 Study.

Top Priorities to Improve Business Impact of Leadership Development in 2021


Leadership development, overall, is failing to develop the leaders needed to drive business results.

In our research, only 34 percent of organizations said they can prove their leadership program significantly impacts business results. That means they struggle to develop leaders who can help their organizations meet their business goals.


  • How do we deliver high-quality leadership training at scale?
  • What types of leaders are needed to make our organization successful?
  • As an organization, are we equipped to develop future leaders—and if not, why not?

Brandon Hall Group POV

Employers must build programs that develop leaders who can:

  1. Drive engagement across the organization while implementing an effective employee value proposition.
  2. Empower collaboration to drive business results.
  3. Drive a culture of diversity and inclusion.

That won’t happen with different leadership models at different levels of the organization. It’s hard enough to train an entire organization of leaders, let alone to do it with competing models—and multiple models cause inconsistency.

Conflating management and business competencies with leadership competencies is also counterproductive. Managers are authority figures; people follow their direction because they have to. People follow leaders because they want to. And leaders don’t have to be managers. Therefore, there needs to be a clear difference between management and leadership training.

Make no mistake: Leaders do need business and management competencies, but those are separate from leadership competencies, which are not at all “soft” as they often are called, but essential and foundational. Having a single set of leadership competencies provides a common base for other skills and competencies to be developed.

Take, for example, a major U.S.-based professional services organization. The firm has a three-year senior management academy for employees on the path to become partners/owners. The second and third years of the program are focused on building personal brands and business development skills. But guess what comes first: one full year of leader training focused on increasing proficiency on a universal set of leadership competencies that are also taught in lower-level development programs.

Leadership development at scale requires one leadership model, as well as an employee-centric approach to development that includes experiential and informal learning and time and resources for leaders to practice new leadership behaviors in a low-risk environment.

It also requires far more attention to developing leadership competencies in front-line and mid-level leaders—the ones who work most closely with individual contributors and, therefore, have the most direct impact on engaging and retaining talent.

Traditionally, organizations have focused heavily on senior leaders and executives. But the trend in recent years has been to focus more on emerging leaders and that trend intensified in the wake of COVID-19.

Priorities* for Leader Development, by Leadership Level