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How to create a leadership development plan (free template)

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a checklist that shows you when someone is ready to be a leader?  While there are some notable differences between management and leadership the transition isn’t like flipping a switch. Furthermore, what defines a leader in one role or at one company, may not be the same at the next. 

This is why having a leadership development plan for your employees is so important. The steps to becoming a leader can be different for each person depending on the skillset they’re starting with. Having an individual contributor or manager create a leadership development plan in collaboration with their manager or HRBP is the first step towards long term leadership success. 

Leadership development in tumultuous times is tricky. With historically high unemployment rates and companies having to make the tough decision to lay off or furlough employees, taking the time to think about the future with leaders may seem like a lesser priority. However, showing employees that you’re invested in their development can keep them engaged and motivated throughout the chaos. 

Have you been laid off? 

Click here to read this article from our friends at The Muse on what to do next.

Here we’ll look at the definition of a leadership development plan, why it matters, and a step by step guide for your employees to use, complete with a downloadable template. 

What is a Leadership Development Plan and Why Does it Matter? 

A leadership development plan is a professional development tool that outlines learning goals to improve leadership capabilities. 

The biggest reason why creating a leadership development plan matters is because leadership can be subjective, and people have varying goals related to leadership. 

Here are four reasons why creating a leadership development plan is important: 

1. Provides clarity on a subjective and complex topic

Within organizations, leadership can be broadly defined as the act of leading a group of people and providing a high-level vision for a team. What it means to do this well can take many forms. Creating a leadership development plan helps people define what leading a group well and providing a vision would look like within a specific company. It can also help leaders recognize the additional responsibility of becoming a leader and having followers.

2. Makes long term goals achievable 

As mentioned previously, the path to leadership isn’t about flipping a switch. Leadership development takes time, and mapping out long term goals through a leadership development plan helps to make those goals specific and attainable.

3. Uncovers areas of opportunity 

Part of becoming a great leader is knowing and working on your blind spots. Everyone has them and acknowledging and working on them transparently is a hallmark of great leadership. A leadership development plan is for development, not evaluation, meaning it’s the right outlet to use for doing the hard work of evaluating blind spots.

4. Gives a clear path to advancement 

For many people, becoming a leader is tied to other tangible career advancements like becoming a manager, receiving a more senior title, or starting a role at a new company. While there are often processes in place for recognizing these types of advancement, discussing a leadership development plan with a manager is a great way to make that path clearer. 


Ready to dive into our leadership development plan template?


Leadership Development Plan: Step by Step Guide

When an employee is ready to start focusing on their leadership development, bring in a step-by-step plan. While this document might only be two or three pages, your developing leaders should plan to spend about four to six weeks thinking through this process. The more thought given to each step at this time, the clearer the path to leadership development.

The steps below are written to address leaders directly.  

1. Write down your leadership development goals 

This should encapsulate your career vision for the next 6-12 months, whatever is most appropriate. It could be helpful to read up on different leadership styles (we have guides to transformational leadership, transactional leadership, autocratic leadership and more) to get a sense of which style informs your goal setting. These goals can be related to things like developing your team, cultivating a new skill, and building relationships. 

Do your best to make your goals “SMART” by being specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. 

Example: Identify internal stakeholders with whom I must have a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship with to learn from and move things forward for my team. Take the first step to reach out by the end of Q2 and plan for follow up. 

2. Examine traits of leaders you admire 

When thinking about how to develop, it’s often helpful to reflect on positive examples for reference. Choosing a few examples of leaders you have worked with directly and indirectly is often helpful. Then, reflect on what specifically about those leaders was admirable. 

Example: My manager Tina always made the time to ask after my personal life in a way that showed she cared about me bringing my full self to work, and about my mental health in general. This is something I’d like to do more consistently as a leader. 

3. Take a 360 review and other assessments 

This step in the process may take a week or more, so it’s important to get started as soon as possible. A 360 leadership assessment includes a self reflection and peer feedback. The goal of a 360 is to help you identify strengths and areas of opportunity. 

Having the self assessment compared to peer feedback can also help you see where you might be rating yourself differently from the people who work with you. Torch coach Elizabeth Howes provides a useful guide to unpacking the results of your first 360 leadership assessment

4. Revise your leadership development goals (include timeline) 

Now that you’ve had time to write your first draft of goals, think about traits of leaders you admire, and review your 360 results, it’s a good time to go back to those goals and ensure they align with how you want to move forward. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Did I discover a blind spot in my 360 that I should add a developmental goal around? 
  • Is there a trait of a leader I admire that I could receive mentorship from? 
  • Are the timelines I set for my goals appropriate or do I need to reprioritize? 

5. Review with your manager, coach, or mentor 

While you’ve collected feedback from peers and potentially your manager in the 360 review step, now is the time to review your goals for leadership development with a trusted advisor. 

This person could be your manager, coach, or mentor. What is important is that you have a discussion to solidify your plan, and you now have someone to help hold you accountable to it (other than yourself). 

6. Measure your development over time 

What might be the most important part of creating your leadership development plan using steps one through five is that you measure your development and track progress towards your goals over time. 

This means setting regular check ins for self evaluation, time with your chosen advisor (manager, coach, or mentor) and circling back with your team for their feedback (through a 360 and in one-on-one meetings).  


Get your leadership development plan template in an easy-to-edit format 


When should you create a leadership development plan? 

A leadership development plan can be used at different points along a leaders’ career including: 

  • Early career 
    • Establish what it means to be a leader and confront blind spots
  • Mid career 
    • Reflect on early leadership and reevaluate blind spots
  • Late career 
    • Consider if/how your approach to leadership has changed
  • New role/company
    • Examine how your approach to leadership aligns with your new role or company

Creating a leadership development plan is only the beginning of the developmental process. Ongoing development for employees takes many forms, and at Torch we’re here to provide one-on-one coaching and mentoring at scale for your leaders.