Traits of a Successful Leadership Development Program


Higher productivity, positive morale, more company growth, current and future stability: the benefits of great leadership are too many to name—and only stand to grow the more great leaders you have at your company.

But exactly how you develop effective leaders isn’t so clear, with just 10% of spending on corporate leadership training reportedly delivering results.

For guidance, let’s look at General Electric, Google, and Johnson & Johnson, three of the largest companies in the world. With global, decentralized workforces in the tens of thousands, they’ve had no choice but to come up with effective ways to develop and empower their leadership. Consequently, their playbooks offer valuable insights you can use to create better leaders at your own company, regardless of your size or industry.

General Electric (GE): Train leaders in the workplace, using real work

GE recently announced that it was selling its massive, 100-year-old Crotonville leadership institute to focus its corporate development closer to where actual work is being done (i.e. factory floors).

When thinking about how to structure your leadership development, it can be tempting to focus too much on the where. Regardless of where your development takes place, it’s important that your employees’ learning always be as connected to real, day-to-day work as possible.

Other useful details to know:

  • GE offers leadership development programs for early-career and experienced employees, with some programs being more than 100 years old.
  • At its peak, learning and development at GE had a $1 billion budget.
  • In their programs, trainees learn about topics like corporate finance, presentation skills, emotional self-regulation, mindfulness, and many others.
  • On campus, employees would receive one-on-one counseling sessions tailored to their own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Other on-campus activities included socializing over team-building activities, hiking, and eating group meals in the dining hall.

Google: Build around what your employees rate highly


Google’s leadership development approach is largely based on a research initiative called Project Oxygen.

This initiative looked at the biggest differences between the highest and lowest-rated managers at Google, based on performance appraisals, employee engagement surveys, interviews, and other sources of employee feedback.

In the end, the researchers found these traits to be most commonly associated with the highest-rated managers:

  1. Being a good coach.
  2. Empowering the team and not micromanaging.
  3. Expressing interest in team members’ success and personal well-being.
  4. Being productive and results-oriented.
  5. Being a good communicator – listening and sharing information.
  6. Helping the team with career development.
  7. Having a clear vision and strategy for the team.
  8. Having key technical skills that help them advise the team.

Today, Google’s development program aims to produce managers with these traits through a variety of training methods, such as workshops, coaching sessions, and on-the-job training.

Try replicating this research to uncover highly-rated managers at your company—and what you’d need to do to develop others like them.

Other useful details to know:

  • The training program was designed to be personalized and tailored to the needs of individual managers. This is done through needs assessment, tailored learning, coaching, self-directed learning, and follow-up support.
  • Their program is regularly updated based on feedback from participants and changes in Google’s culture and strategy.
  • 80% of all tracked training is run through an employee-to-employee network called “g2g” (Googler-to-Googler), where employees at Google volunteer to teach and train their fellow employees.

Johnson & Johnson: Personalize, personalize, personalize

Part of what makes leadership development hard is the fact that effective leadership in one position can look entirely different than in another.

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) aims to combat this with deep segmentation, offering different development programs for new people leaders, all people leaders, early careers leaders, mid-career leaders, and senior leaders.

Not only that but within each of these categories, there is further segmentation. For example, consider these two development paths for new people leaders:

  • Leading People at Johnson & Johnson: This intensive development journey is designed to give new people leaders at J&J what they need to learn, grow, and effectively lead each person on their team, as they work together to ensure the health of future generations around the world.
  • Leadership Navigator—First 100 Days: This collection of resources and videos has been curated specifically for J&J people leaders and focuses on the most important information to get them off to a great start in their first 100 days in their roles as first-time leaders.

Or these paths for mid-career leaders:

  • International Development Program (IDP): This global learning experience accelerates the readiness of upward potential leaders through an international stretch assignment.
  • ASCEND GLOBAL: ASCEND is an immersive development experience focused on accelerating select mid-level female talent in the Enterprise leadership pipeline.
  • RISE: RISE is a premium experience designed specifically for high-achieving, mid-level racially and ethnically diverse talent with upward potential for more senior roles.

Take a bird’s eye view of your company, assess where leadership requirements differ (i.e. across your various teams, departments, and seniority levels), and create different development paths to account for these differences. This ought to help you develop employees capable of leading their specific team to success.

Other useful characteristics to know:

  • To supplement J&J’s more comprehensive development paths, employees can access on-demand micro-learning on key topics (i.e. coaching).
  • J&J offers no less than 12 development paths for leaders across a variety of positions and seniority levels.
  • J&J’s new learning and development ecosystem, J&J Learn, puts the employee first by delivering:
    • Personalized career development pathways curated through artificial intelligence.
    • Fair and equitable learning experiences and development opportunities for all employees.
    • Experiential learning approaches that pull employees out of the classroom and into exciting on-the-job experiences.

In conclusion, based on these examples, we can define a successful leadership development program as one that gets trainees as close to real work as possible, is based on real employee feedback about who they like working for and why, and offers tailored development paths to make sure everyone can become an effective leader at your company, regardless of their role, department, seniority level, background, and preferences.

Hopefully, whether you’re a small company just starting to consider investing in leadership development, a big company looking to break through a plateau, or somewhere in between, these insights can help you understand your next move.

Share post:


More like this

Translate »