The Best Chief Technology Officer

Creating a Leadership Development Blueprint for Your Organization

Creating a Leadership Development Blueprint for Your Organization

This is an overall leadership development (LD) blueprint that does not pretend to be all-inclusive but, if you do not have a clue where to begin, it will get you started in the right direction. I know it works because it was the same blueprint I designed and used in creating a LD program within a large Fortune 500 bank a few years ago.

Some unintended, but very favorable consequences, of our leadership program happened to the executive sponsor – our “Champion” – during a monthly meeting with the bank’s executive committee.

They were discussing the trend of the constantly improving metrics in the operations division when the chairman asked our executive to describe how he was doing it.

“I can account for about half of it”, he admitted, “but, beyond that, I don’t have any specifics.”

“What?” responded the chairman. “How can you NOT know everything about it?”

“Because we’ve empowered our leaders down to the line level to make decisions up to a certain financial threshold on their own without having to ask. So the numbers are getting better but I haven’t asked them how…and do not plan to. We have trained them to act and they are doing it. Much better than we ever expected!”

As additional incentive to use this blueprint, be sure to keep this fundamental organizational fact burned into your “memory chip” if you are a Human Resources professional: Human Resources, though its linkage to hiring, firing, training, performance management, benefits and compensation, has a unique and powerful influence on the greatest organizational expense: the workforce.

Therefore, HR has an opportunity UNLIKE ANY OTHER SEGMENT OF THE ORGANIZATION to impact the bottom line if it will consider this simple fact of business life: every dime saved in operations expenses goes directly to the bottom line; i.e., PROFITS.

And, the easiest way to make that profitable impact on the bottom line is to improve the leadership skills in the operations area. This is because employees are more closely tied emotionally to their leader than to their employer! If an employee has a good leader, they will have high morale, maximum productivity, and stay with them through stressful times. If they have a poor leader, they will do the least they can to get by, become clock watchers, and leave at the first opportunity.

It all comes back to leadership skills. Even if an organization could afford a full-blown, LD initiative provided by an outside vendor, many still could not easily send their employees to traditional classroom training because of staffing, workplace locations, or work schedule issues like we faced during the development and implementation of this program.

Therefore, we have modified this guide from the original to use a self-study approach that would allow participants to receive the training they need in spite of any scheduling, work, or training obstacles encountered.

Telephone conference calls, webinars, or web video conferencing can bring a widely dispersed audience together for meetings, sharing experiences, or updates on the program itself and should be a part of the program.

Although we are now using a self-study format as the foundation for this guide that makes it easier to deliver the training, no amount of training is worthwhile without support from an organization’s leaders to make sure the participant applies the skills learned on the job after the training and the participant has the opportunity to share lessons learned and network with peers.

Just as the leaders are expected to protect the organization’s investments in capital improvements, they should be just as diligent maximizing the return on investment in developing their workforce.

Much of what we describe in this guideline will need strong support from a training manager, HR representative, or some strong project manager to act as the primary connection point to answer questions, provide forms, or collect suggestions for improving the program. This person would also be the central keeper of the participant’s electronic development records while being able to send a copy to the participant at the completion of each item in the plan.

This brings us to a caution – Do not begin a program like this unless:

  1. You are sure you have the commitment of an executive sponsor to provide the “force” of the program
  2. You have a strong training representative to provide the “spirit” of the program
  3. You have the cooperation of the HR department to provide the “life” of the program

If your organization cannot devote at least 6-12 months toward getting it started, you are better off not doing it at all. We suggest that time range for several reasons:

  • It is the upper limit of many executives’ attention spans regarding internal initiatives.
  • This is about as long as you can sustain the extra effort needed to get it going. Once started and people understand what it is, you can sustain it with less input of new energy.
  • This is about as far ahead as you can confidently plan in many organizations. Typically, real life collides with planning at some point and even the best designed projects require unanticipated adjustment as time passes. Plan well for a solid start and then use your long-term vision statements to keep you pointed in the right general direction. That way, when problems or obstacles appear, you can adjust as needed without danger of drifting aimlessly.

If you cannot give the program a strong foundation and a sustained launch period, you risk the creation of false hopes and dreams among the participants. They will be devastated and become very cynical if the program is allowed to die from lack of strong support and it will be much harder to start another one later.

We have broken this blueprint into segments of the big picture to make it easier for you to take a “Do-It-Yourself” approach to most of it with minimal guidance from a consultant.

Finally, we believe that Leadership is Leadership is Leadership. You may think to yourself, “This development program sounds so generic. Shouldn’t I try to find something for leadership skills in our industry?”

Our answer is this: leadership skills are about dealing with the people within the industry and, since all humans are essentially alike in terms of what motivates them, what distresses them, their hopes and dreams, etc., these skills are easily transferable from one industry to another.

However, the unique elements about the industry must be taught by the employer or from industry-specific training.

Before we start getting into the details of the process, it will be useful to look at the elements of the big picture so you will understand what we are working toward.

This is what the our LD process includes:

1. An executive commitment to provide the “force” of the program – their commitment is essential but they must be actively supportive by adding a permanent agenda item to their regular meeting with direct reports when they ask for a brief summary of the LD highlights in their groups since the last meeting. (This addition to the regular meeting with subordinates should flow down the chain of command.) Passive support such as lip service is not much help.

If the direct reports expect to be asked in every meeting about the progress being made in their department’s portion of the overall LD initiative, they will make sure they have something relevant to report.

Get the active commitment of a management champion in as high a position as possible within your vertical group in the organization chart. It is more important in the beginning to have the active support of an executive (division or department manager) in a smaller unit that the passive lip service of an executive in a larger unit. This is because a smaller, cohesive unit can get started earlier and create a model for others to follow.

Think of it like neighborhood kids with a lemonade stand. There may only be one brave child out there smiling at passing cars and pointing to their sign in the beginning but as soon as the other kids see people are stopping and buying lemonade, they all rush out and plead, “Can I do it, too?”

So, it may only be a department manager to start with but it is a start. Once the program gets rolling and positive results begin to appear (look back at the comments of the executive mentioned at the beginning of this article), try to push it higher to division manager, etc. and upward until the CEO is doing it. (It may take a long time to get to that point but remember, it also took a long time to get to the point where you realized you needed to develop employees.)

2. A strong training representative to provide the “spirit” of the program. This individual is the nexus of the program maintaining contact with all participants, the training materials vendor, the HR department, and the executive champion. They monitor the program’s “pulse” to spot and deal with sagging momentum, potential obstacles, encourage the champion to keep asking his/her reports at regular meetings “what are you doing to develop your people”, and to work with HR to make sure the annual performance assessment tool for leaders contains a section asking “what are you doing to develop your people?”

3. You have the cooperation of the HR department to provide the “life” of the program. Reinforcement is a critical element of learning. To make sure managers reinforce the learning requires application of an organizational truth: “what gets inspected gets done.”

The inspection occurs with the help of Human Resources if they will add an element to the organization’s annual performance assessment tool for leaders (at every level) that simply asks, “What have you done to further the development of your employees?”

This requires them to document:

A. Pre-training meetings when they met with the employee to:

  • Review the learning points of the upcoming course
  • Identify key learning points with critical implications in their department
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting after the class when the employee meets with the leader again to discuss how they plan to implement those critical learning points.

B. Their efforts to make employees aware of available developmental opportunities.

C. Assignments they gave to employees who have completed some training courses where they can apply specific learning outcomes from the course.

D. Feedback and support they provided the employees during the application of those learning outcomes All of these items assume the organization feels a key part of a leader’s job at any level is the development of his or her employees.

4. A plan for the future – The LD champion (see part #1 above) must articulate a view of where we want to go; i.e., “the dream.” The “promised land” that every line employee in any position can understand. (It is essential that they understand it because they will have to do most of the work necessary to get there.)

The view of where we want to go may be as simple as, “Our customers love us and everyone wants to work here.” (At our bank, where we implemented this program, ours was, “Making it easy to bank at [name of our bank].”)

The guiding statement/dream is critical because later on, that is the guideline we use to make decisions. For example, if we are faced with doing either choice A or B, we can use the dream statement here by asking, “Which choice helps us get closer to the dream: A or B?” Then select the one that helps us get closer.

5. A series of Leadership Principles that will be our common code of behavior as leaders that will help us do the right things right and work toward the dream. (We have included a sample later.)

6. A needs analysis – If we know what the dream looks like, then we can begin to explore what skills and knowledge our workforce will have to have to get us there.

Additionally, this will help us identify what policies and procedures we will need to create, revise, or eliminate to help our workforce reach our dream:

  • The needs analysis is not only about the needs for the workforce, it is also a good time to review existing technology, policies, procedures, recruiting and retention strategies, equipment, service agreements, the physical plant, etc. because all of these items will have to support “the dream.”
  • The needs analysis should also include a frank examination of the existing culture to make sure the plans to come are based in reality and not some pie-in-the-sky view that will lead to disappointment. For example, if the organization has a long tradition that upward career growth is based on internal political connections more than competence and potential, then you must devise a plan to break away from that practice.

7. Supply the needs to fill the gaps – Now that we have identified the gaps (in #6 above) between where our workforce is now and where we want it to go (“the dream”), we have to create the structure to start filling those gaps.

Typical questions include:

  • What is the quality of our leadership skills from top to bottom? (Studies have shown that employees stay with or leave their leaders, not their employers)
  • What training can we identify to begin teaching those skills? (We will detail an effective leadership development program later in this blueprint.)
  • What new policies and/or procedures must we implement to make sure those new skills are reinforced on the job?
  • How will we identify and develop future leaders? (A suggested Future Leader’s program will be the subject of the next article.)
  • What is the quality of our training department or resources available to us? Can they conduct a needs analysis and proscribe solutions in a credible manner? Can they design effective training to meet our needs to will we have to look outward? Can they teach the material effectively? Do they have credibility in teaching business related courses?
  • What non-traditional training courses should we require to accomplish our dream? Possibilities include:
  • Negotiations Skills (for working effectively with other departments)
  • Introduction to Project Management (there will be inevitable projects associated with reaching our dream and we need to have the skills to manage them)
  • Understanding Productivity (we must develop a measurement culture so we can design means to collect and analyze data in a meaningful manner to forecast trends, production requirements, and capacities so we can plan for equipment, space, and staffing as we evolve.)
  • Courses about our industry to insure there is a basic level of knowledge among our participants.
  • Any compliance or regulatory requirements unique to our industry Note: This should not include universal training that every employee gets such as safety, HR required training, etc. This training should be that which is targeted to leaders, not all general employees, because of their unique position in a leadership role.
  • What practices must we begin to make sure we constantly reinforce the application of these skills?
  • How will our annual performance assessment process help us manage performance and allow employees to self-manage their development as much as possible?
  • What growth opportunities will we have available for employees that may not want to move “up” but rather into other career broadening roles within the organization?

8. How will we keep this momentum and not allow ourselves to fall into the “flavor-of-the-month” trap? ( Routine and repetition are critical to keep the momentum going. )

Think of it like your New Year’s resolution to walk every morning before work to lose those extra pounds you picked up over the holidays and get ready for that high school reunion in June. You made a commitment to walk every weekday for at least 45 minutes to see the results you want.

That does not mean only if it is at least a certain temperature, dry skies, you feel just right, you must have had at least X hours of sleep the night before, etc. It means doing it when you would rather be doing something else because you are focused on the ‘dream’ of how good you will look when you see those people again that you haven’t seen since high school.

Here is a further refinement of many of those preceding elements. We learned how and where to include these as our program evolved because we knew it was essential to mold the program to fit our functioning culture, not try to mold the culture to fit the program.

An effective LD program should have these elements as a minimum:

  • An executive willing to tell all supervisors and managers in their division something like this to make the importance of this initiative clear to all, “Active support of the program is expected and any who do not feel they can actively support it should rethink their plans for continued leadership in this division.”
  • An employee individual development plan (IDP) or opportunity to develop. We did not insist that everyone must develop but we did insist that everyone be given the opportunity to develop. Every part of their IDP helps the employee increase his or her value to the organization in support of the organization’s goals and mission.
  • A development plan with specific milestones of accomplishment with increasingly difficult challenges much like the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years in college.
  • A process that allows participants to track their own progress.
  • A means to keep the senior executives actively involved in the on-going life of the program.
  • A way to select and develop future leaders from within the workforce.
  • A way to accommodate the training difficulties associated with remote work locations, heavy work schedules, or staffing issues that prevent attendance at traditional live training classes.
  • A list of leadership principles that will serve as the basic guideline for behaviors, decisions and actions. It should be easy to understand, not “preachy” or so lofty that no one can relate to it. (We have provided the list we used.) An additional value of these principles is that it helps a new leader make a decision when in doubt and helps them become more self-reliant.
  • A program administrator (Training Manager or HR representative) to act as the central collector of data, to answer questions, and to serve as the common link between all participants and executives.

We knew it was important for our LD program and emerging leaders to have a common code of guiding principles to help us stay aligned with the Bank’s mission.

Also, they are useful for decision-making when there may be two or more equally viable options. The training manager provided a couple to get the process started and after much discussion, rewording, and several meetings, this is what emerged for us.

These are exactly as we used them.

The [bank name] Deposit Operations Principles of Leadership

  1. DEPOSIT OPERATIONS EXISTS TO MAKE IT EASY TO BANK AT [company name]. (Any decision that you make as an employee or leader must support that purpose.)
  2. TRUST IS HISTORIC. (Your people must learn they can trust you. Every action you take must advance their education about you.)
  3. WELCOME PROBLEMS THAT YOUR EMPLOYEES BRING TO YOU BECAUSE THEY PROVIDE YOU WITH AN OPPORTUNITY TO DEMONSTRATE YOUR WISDOM AND PATIENCE. (This also helps to show them you do not attack the messenger with bad news, you attack the problem! Review # 2 above.)
  4. IF YOU HELP YOUR EMPLOYEES UNDERSTAND THE “WHY”, THEY CAN FIGURE OUT THE “HOW”. (Do not insult them by always telling them how to do it. Also, they may discover a better way to do something!)
  5. WHEN YOUR EMPLOYEES GET WHAT THEY WANT, YOU WILL GET WHAT YOU WANT. (The more you talk with them about their job, children, pets, hopes, dreams, concerns, and fears, the better your chances of knowing what they want.)
  6. GIVE ALL THE CREDIT YOU CAN TO YOUR EMPLOYEES WHEN THEY DO WELL – TAKE ALL THE BLAME WHEN THEY DO NOT. (Then quietly find out what led your employees to the wrong results and then change whatever you found so it does not lead to problems again. However, do not attack your employees!)
  7. PEOPLE LEARN BY DOING – YOU MUST ALLOW YOUR PEOPLE TO FAIL AS WELL AS SUCCEED. (You still reserve the right to step in and not allow anything to diminish our division’s/group’s reason for existence. See #1 above.)
  8. DECIDE WHAT YOU THINK IS MOSTLY RIGHT AND GET STARTED: YOU CAN IMPROVE IT ALONG THE WAY. (An operational environment requires decisions and actions. Delaying a decision until you are certain it will work may cause a greater problem. Use #1 above to help you decide which of your options is closer to being right.)
  10. YOUR PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY AS A [company name] LEADER IS TO DEVELOP YOUR REPLACEMENT. (You can never be promoted if there is no one to replace you!)

These principles were framed and posted in every office, including the most senior people, so that everyone knew what we believed in common.

Adding Structure to the Developmental Process

Human performance development requires the accomplishment of tasks. This accomplishment typically results from a trial-and-error process of starts and stops, embarrassing mistakes, some humility, some requests for help, some moments of inspiration and many moments of patience, persistence, and endurance. Simply put, that is the human learning process.

We included many activities in the LD program that were closely tied to developing their ability to support the our division’s mission (“Making it easy to bank at [our bank]”) by improving their leadership skills. As their leadership skills improved, we began to see significant improvement metrics such as those mentioned by the executive in the second paragraph.

We knew that learning by doing would provide a high rate of learning retention, so we structured the program for a mixture of learning, a lot of application, some discussion, and as they got higher in the program, some actual demonstrations of problem solving.

Next are the tasks they were required to accomplish during their progress through our leadership development program.

The Academic Segment

We designed the academic portion of the program on a familiar model using freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior designations for the levels of increasing skills application.

At the time of our program, we were teaching all of the courses live in our four operations centers across the southeastern US. Also, we used video conferencing on occasion when there were too few students in any one location to make it cost effective to send the primary trainer to their location for a live class.

Since class and work scheduling were always a concern, we decided that courses could be taken in any order as they became available but had to honor any course sequence or class level requirements.

For example, you could not take Leadership Fundamentals (LF) II until you had completed LF I. Or, if you were still in the freshman “year”, you could take any sophomore class but not above it until finishing the sophomore level.

Once a student completed all of the academic requirements for a given academic “year” (freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior level), they were awarded a certificate of completion at the next supervisor’s monthly meeting, notice of it went on the department’s bulletin board, and a copy was sent to Human Resources for inclusion in their folder.

Note: Community Service was defined as any time spent contributing to the community on a voluntary basis. It did not include regular attendance at church services but it could include volunteering in a church-sponsored community activity. Other examples participants used were president of a home owner’s association, helping coach a youth league sport, running in a charity marathon, etc. In short, anything where participants could see our employees being contributing members of the community.

The LD individual employee records had this content:

Program Purpose at Freshman and Sophomore Levels

To provide the participant at the Freshman and Sophomore Levels an opportunity to increase knowledge, gain a technical or a knowledge foundation, help discover their leadership or management style, and to hone their management skills.

Program Purpose at Junior and Senior Levels

The Junior and Senior Levels is a period of self-improvement and growth as a leader. It is a time to gain skills in the area of staff development.

Attainment of Level Designation

To be awarded the various leadership levels, the participant must complete all required classes and projects required for that level. To attain total completion of all levels and be awarded your Senior Level, the participant must also have completed all Elective Classes. The Elective Classes can be completed at any time but must be completed to receive the Senior Level designation and complete the Program.


  • “Life Experience” Credits – for certain required classes and/or electives credit might be given for a non-company sponsored class such as a college class. The participant must request the credit in writing to the Leadership Representative who will then request the appropriate HR expert to review the request. The participant must furnish proof that the skills taught are very similar to those taught by HR trainers.
  • “Self-Taught” Credit – Individuals who teach themselves PC use must get a written statement from their manager verifying the participant can perform the skills which are described for that class in the HR catalog.
  • Executive Credit Review Committee (ECRC) – (The names and titles of the executives acting as champions of the program) They assign and approve projects in the junior and senior levels. They also approve application of leadership principles and/or techniques in Junior Level – Part D.
  • LDPA (Leadership Development Program Administrator) – Local Training Manager or local Human Resource Manager

FRESHMAN CLASS REQUIREMENTS May take these in any order

  • A basic knowledge of our industry (unique to the industry)
  • Civil Behavior in the Workplace
  • Preparing to Succeed – Charting Your Own Self-Development Course
  • Preparing to Lead-The Least You Need to Know
  • Improving Workplace Communications
  • Motivating People
  • Understanding Performance and Productivity Community Service (45 clock hours)

The requirements for the sophomore classes increased to eight courses and 45 more community service hours.

SOPHOMORE CLASS REQUIREMENTS may take these in any order:

  • Measuring Performance and Productivity
  • Budget Concepts for Non-Financial Leaders
  • Interviewing Skills
  • Conflict: Understanding and Managing
  • Analyzing Employee Performance Problems
  • Leadership Fundamentals(LF) I (must take this before LF II)
  • Leadership Fundamentals II
  • Conducting Effective Meetings
  • Community Service (90 clock hours)

Since the Junior and Senior Levels are a period of self-improvement and growth as a leader, their requirements were greater and more varied.


Part A: Required Classes – must take them in this order

  • Introduction to Project Management
  • Negotiating Skills for the Workplace
  • No Cost Ways to Improve Productivity
  • Financial Proposals: The Why and the How

Part B: Supplementary classes can be taken in any order

  • Managing Change: The Leader’s Perspective
  • Creating an Effective Performance Assessment Process
  • How to Develop (or save) a Project Team
  • Customer Service – Ensuring Your Employability
  • 2 PC classes – Your choice but must be something you do not know now

Part C: Community Service (CS) 12 consecutive months as a participant Participation may be in more than 1 CS activity but must total one calendar year of continuous service for credit. Example: 6 months working to help sponsor a charity golf tournament + 3 months with Junior Achievement + 3 months as a United Way volunteer = 12 months CS.

Part D: Project Completion – 2 Projects

  • 1 project selected by the participant with approval by ECRC
  • 1 project assigned by ECRC

Part E: Application of five (5) Leadership Principles and/or Techniques

The participant documents the application of the principles and/or techniques and submits to any ECRC member for approval. Upon receiving five approvals, the participant will present them to their LDPA for credit in the junior year.


Part A: Required Classes – must take them in this order

  • Manage Productivity to Maximize Profits
  • Leading the Multi-Generational Workforce
  • Creating and Retaining a Diverse and Productive Workforce

Part B: Required Activity – Write a financial proposal assigned by the ECRC. The student writes and presents a financial proposal to the ECRC based on a project they are assigned. The student is graded on the quality of the presentation, defense of the content, and support for the desired outcome. Since funds may not actually be available, any vote for action by the committee is only for the purposes of learning.

Part C: Community Service (CS) – 12 consecutive months in a leadership role. This is 12 consecutive months as a leader in an organization – not an accumulation from several sources as in the junior year.

Part D: Project Completion of 2 projects The student will select and seek approval for a project and the ECRC will assign a second one. The student will present each project outcome to the ECRC for a project score. (Note: 70% is minimum passing score.)

As you can see, it wasn’t rocket science but rather a clear plan with consistency and persistence. And when the metrics began to improve and made the leaders in our division look like heroes, the other divisions wanted to help us with our “lemonade stand.” Do you want to become a hero? Here’s the blueprint to do it.