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Leadership Development: Definition and Literature Review

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Definition of Leadership Development
  3. What are the end goal and outcomes of Leadership Development?
  4. Leadership development literature


The Learning and Development (L&D) umbrella has many areas that it covers from stress, employee engagement, and talent management to change management. However, this review will focus on the development of leaders through L&D practices and how these can be beneficial for Human Resources (HR) and an organization.

Leadership development is extremely important for any organization wishing to achieve long-term success. With this being said, nearly three-quarters of companies in England reported a deficit of leadership skills in 2012 according to BIS (Department for Business Innovation and Skills) which can lead to a high 56% failures in an organization. Therefore, proving that although improvements in L&D for leadership are made, there is still quite a substantial gap.

The aim of this essay, with the help of the literature on this topic, is to define leadership development as a concept with its processes and supposed outcomes and how this directly impacts Human Resource Management.

Definition of Leadership Development

Leadership development is one of those topics which does not have a set definition, but it is rather defined as it is perceived through the mind of the individual using it. Therefore, finding the right definition can be quite a challenge, however for the purpose of this essay Lynham’s (2000) definition will be used which says LD is a form of growth in the life cycle of a leader and helps the expansion of experience, knowledge, and skills.

When it comes to the methods used to implement LD, these can differ depending on the organization and its needs. According to a study from Megheirkouni (2016), there are four main methods: action learning, feedback methods, coaching/networking, and finally job rotation. These can disputably be categorized into two main sets one being collective LD which includes action learning sets and job rotation. Secondly, Leader Development methods such as feedback and coaching are ultimately more individualized in comparison to the first set (McGurk, 2010). The end goal of each method is eventually the same, to enable more effective organizational performance. The survival of any organization is extremely dependent on the ability to develop future leaders (Amaogh, F 2009).

Although, it is quite worrying that despite having studies and articles on the efficiency of methods for LD and the money invested by organizations which according to the CIPD is £3.2 billion annually, UK organizations still report a deficit of 72% of leadership skills (CIPD,2014).

What are the end goal and outcomes of Leadership Development?

The aim of an LD program is to give people the necessary attributes to be effective leader. Although, the goal will ultimately depend on what the organization wants to achieve through such programs whether that is to increase employee morale, increase retention, improve productivity or build better teams. Because of the outcomes LD brings, it is key for the company’s values, goals, and strategy to be aligned with the program created (Canals, 2014).

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Leadership development literature

Most of the Leadership writing up until recently was dominated by style theories of leadership. However, given the new challenges organizations have to deal with in a time of such uncertainty and interdependency where rapid changes in the technology and economy areas are seen, can make such models quite incomplete (Clarke, 2012). These changes in the environment of an organization have shifted LD to move toward a more leader-centric view (Orvis and Ratwani, 2010). Therefore, although in the past a leader was seen as someone good at business, in today’s environment organizations demand many more skills for a leader such as managerial skills, excellent people skills, and creative ideas (Bolman and Deal, 2009). It is more than clear that, to meet such needs leaders need ongoing support and training and it is up to the company to identify the needs and create the best LD program.

Various models can be used for this purpose. Firstly, the Skills Gap Analysis model (SGI) which looks at the gap between existing skills and required skills while aligning these with the company’s needs and the job role. Obviously, the larger the gap is the longer the training is needed. The beauty of this model is that it aids organizations to focus on the areas with the highest priority while also estimating the time needed (Jean Brittain, 2016).

Secondly, the Training Needs Analysis (TNA) which identifies the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to understand what is needed in a program (Moore and Dutton, 1978). Both models are used to identify the gap and therefore close this certain gap through learning and development.

However, both models lack continuity once the needs are established. They can be seen as a one-off analysis. According to PMC (Performance Management Consultants), there are seven factors that should be looked at for a successful LD program. The design of the program, good knowledge given to participants prior to starting the program, focus on behavior and not only training skills, management assessment objectives, flexible program design and process (to encourage dynamic), individual accountabilities for growth and lastly remembering that leadership effectiveness is directly related to the organization effectiveness (PMC, n.d.).

Therefore, it can be said that any model applied will need ongoing support to make sure the designed program is appropriate and effective. CIPD suggests that any TNA program should be used alongside an ongoing LNA program (Learning Needs Analysis for a continuous gathering of data and insights on operational demands for skills, new roles, changed roles, and employee capabilities (CIPD, 2020).

Edyn Group combines all the above models to create the most efficient development program for its leaders. The company analyzed the gap and training needs, created the program to align with its strategy and values, and now uses the LNA approach to continuously analyze the needs and get the best results.

Their leadership development program combines action learning, formal training, coaching, feedback, and stepping into the shoes of a higher manager approach. The company made sure the align its values, strategy, and objective with this program to ensure maximum efficiency. The company takes great pride in its L&D practices as well as the leadership development program which is proving to be very efficient according to their HR Director since most of the job promotions are usually done internally. Although, there are no reports to prove this.

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Leadership Development: Definition and Literature Review. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 24, 2024, from
“Leadership Development: Definition and Literature Review.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023,
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Leadership Development: Definition and Literature Review [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2024 Feb 24]. Available from:
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