How to Develop Great Leaders at Scale

From the front line to the C-Suite, employers need great leaders. Most employers struggle mightily 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 leadership level.

In our qualitative research, we regularly speak with organizations that believe front line, midlevel and senior leaders each require different leadership skill sets. Our research also shows that 55% 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% 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 its 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?

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 are often 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 leader competencies that is 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 midlevel 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

Organizations that want to scale leader development for business impact will:

• Operate with one leadership model for how leaders should think and act.

• Clearly differentiate leadership and management/ business training.

• Make training experiential with time for reinforcement and practice.

• Concentrate first and foremost on leaders who have had less exposure to training and development.


Brandon Hall Group Strategy Briefs answer the critical questions learning, talent, HR and business leaders must address to manage their human capital. To tackle these critical questions in more detail, we built tools, frameworks, research summaries and business builders based on up-to-date research and case studies for you to implement best and next Human Capital Management (HCM) practices. To gain access to these valuable resources, contact [email protected].

Leading minds in HCM choose Brandon Hall Group to help them build future-proof employee-development plans for the new era. For more than 27 years, we have empowered, recognized and certified excellence in organizations around the world, influencing the development of over 10,000,000 associates and executives.

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Mike Cooke



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Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.