Few talent development decisions have a bigger impact on your company’s future success than which leadership training program you invest in.
The right one can set your company up for success, filling your talent pipeline with leaders who are prepared for both the business challenges they’ll encounter and the needs of their employees. The wrong one is not only an expensive waste of time, it can end up causing a leak in your talent pipeline, according to Ira Wolfe, president of the leadership assessment firm Success Performance Solutions.
“The biggest cost to an organization is losing talent,” Wolfe said.
Irrelevant training can cause leaders to become disengaged and unmotivated. Eventually, Wolfe said, they’ll quit.
Leadership Training Courses to Know
- Achievers from Bell Leadership Institute
- Dale Carnegie Training
- Development Dimensions International
- LifeLabs Learning
- Global Mentor Network
- The Darkest Horse
To keep employees engaged and motivated — and develop them as leaders — it’s important to find the right program. Here’s what you need to know to make your decision, plus some examples of leadership training programs to consider.
How to Find the Right Leadership Training Program
With thousands of vendors to choose from across a variety of price ranges and presentation methods, it’s not an easy decision. In fact, U.S. companies spent $92.3 billion on training between 2020 and 2021, according to the business learning publication Training Magazine. Yet, a Harvard Business School paper found that just 10 percent of training programs are effective.
Here’s what to think through when making your decision.
Tips for Finding Leadership Training
- Understand what skills your leadership needs.
- Research the training market.
- Collaborate with leaders in your company.
- Audit the training.
- Make space for feedback when training is over.
Consider the Skills Your Company’s Leaders Need
Before you start looking for a leadership training program, it’s important to map out what skills you want your leaders to develop.
With thousands of courses to choose from, having a clear sense of what skills you want to focus on will help narrow down your search. But it’ll also ensure that you find a program relevant to your audience.
At the enterprise platform company Lumen Technologies, VP of Talent Management Stephanie Calhoun divides leadership training programs into three categories: emerging leaders, directors and executives. Each level has different objectives. The emerging leaders program is designed for direct managers with a heavy emphasis on coaching and strategies for building a successful team. The director level also focuses on coaching but also works to expand the leader’s skills to think more strategically. Finally, the executive level emphasizes building purpose within a team and driving change across the organization.
With those goals in mind, Calhoun was able to focus her search on vendors with expertise in each of those skill sets. The approach has helped the company find programs like the University of North Carolina executive development program and consulting firm BTS, both of which Lumen Technologies has partnered with for several years.
Once you find those vendors, sharing your objectives with them will also help them customize their offering to suit your leadership needs. Calhoun has worked with both partners to add elements of empathy training, practical exercises and coaching.
And the longer you partner with those vendors, the better they’ll be able to provide a tailored experience, Calhoun said.
“If you keep the training the same every year, you’re going to fall behind on what’s important for leadership. It’s about stepping back and saying, ‘What do we need next year?’”
“My biggest advice is to build those partnerships with a few external vendors,” Calhoun said. “When you have those relationships you’ve built over time, they know your business, they understand what’s going on and actually know your leadership because they’ve trained a lot of them.”
But she also suggests surveying your own leaders about what they need. Each year, she’ll conduct stakeholder interviews with company leaders to find out what’s going on in the business and what skills the company’s future leaders will need to tackle those challenges.
Over the last couple of years, empathy has become a critical skill for leaders. So Calhoun worked with vendors to incorporate a module on empathy into its training sessions.
“If you keep the training the same every year, you’re going to fall behind on what’s important for leadership,” Calhoun said. “It’s about stepping back and saying, ‘What do we need next year?’”
Audit the Leadership Training Program to Properly Vet It
Leadership training is an investment that needs to be customized to your company. What works for one business, may not work for another. The only way to figure out if a training program is right for you is to test it out.
When Ana Ramirez went looking for a diversity, equity and inclusion leadership development program for her team, her checklist included the typical logistical questions.
Ramirez, senior specialist of inclusion, diversity and belonging at data discovery platform Relativity, wanted to know how long the vendor had been around, what its success rate was and how much the training would cost. Each would play an important factor in her decision. But more importantly, she wanted to know: “Can we vibe with these people?”
While you can find plenty of vendors that check your logistical boxes, if their approach doesn’t connect with your leaders, it’s not going to stick, Ramirez said.
“The worst thing you could do is have someone sit there for 90 minutes and be like, ‘I already know this, why am I here?’” Ramirez said. “They’ll never come back and now you’ve wasted $50,000.”
The best way to determine whether or not a vendor will click with your team is to try them out, Ramirez said. During her search, she sat in on a training session with a dozen vendors before she found the right one.
“It came down to how inspired I felt leaving the training and also ... what kind of relationship [the trainers and I] had off the bat,” Ramirez said. “It almost felt like speed dating.”
Ramirez eventually landed on the training from Electives because it incorporated some humor into its DEI training exercises that made the lesson more memorable. In one exercise, the training leader divided everyone into breakout sessions and had them complete silly contests to explore how bias works, like crowning someone the winner for doing the most pushups or for traveling to the most countries — things that the participants have little control over in the moment.
Ramirez found it a refreshing alternative to the more serious approach some DEI programs take and felt that it would resonate with the leaders taking the course.
“The worst thing you could do is have someone sit there for 90 minutes and be like, ‘I already know this, why am I here? They’ll never come back and now you’ve wasted $50,000.”
Of course, it’s also important to interview the company and make sure that the instructor can meet your needs.
Before Ramirez committed to Electives, she shared with them Relativity’s objectives for the program: to help employee resource group leaders increase employee engagement with DEI initiatives, navigate difficult conversations and expand their cultural competency. She also wanted to understand how the program measured progress.
Once Ramirez vetted the company’s program proposal and it checked all of her boxes, she felt comfortable investing in them.
“Culture is different everywhere you go. You want to make sure that everyone feels heard and represented and [the training course] just fits in your company,” Ramirez said. “I can’t think that a [training] that’s out of the box is ever a good idea. It’s a good starting point, but that flexibility is necessary.”
14 Leadership Training Courses to Know
With that said, here are some leadership training courses to know based on insights from leadership development experts.
Achievers From Bell Leadership Institute
One of Bell Leadership Institute’s core training programs, Achievers takes a tailored approach to developing existing leaders. Before starting the course, leaders must conduct a 360-degree feedback assessment with their team members to gather insights into their management style. From there, the course will help leaders identify their strengths and weaknesses, how to improve upon those weaknesses to be more effective and provide them with action plans. Bell Leadership Institute provides both in-person training in North Carolina, as well as a live Zoom option conducted over five half-day sessions.
BTS is a training firm specializing in partnering with corporations to provide a customized leadership development program. It aims to help leaders develop a more flexible and adaptive mindset through a variety of business simulations and industry-specific exercises. The curriculum is broken down into bite-sized sessions that leaders can choose from and include action items to help them put the lesson into action. BTS offers training for leaders at every level from executives to middle managers to front-line leaders.
Dale Carnegie Training
Named one of the top leadership training courses of 2021 by Training Industry, Dale Carnegie Training offers more than 50 leadership development modules that range anywhere from three-hour sessions to three-day workshops. Classes are designed for leaders of all stages and cover topics like how to delegate, leading virtual teams and sustainable employee engagement. The company also partners with corporations to provide a customized leadership training experience. Courses can be taken online or in person at sites across the United States.
Development Dimensions International
Another one of Training Industry’s top courses, DDI provides a variety of course options for your company that ranges from emerging leaders training to mid-manager and executive training to a women in leadership program. It also allows companies and leaders to build their own curriculum and sign up for short workshops to continue developing their skills.
Each of its courses is designed to immerse the participant in specific challenges they might come across at work to help them develop the core skills they need to thrive. Classes include addressing poor performers, coaching skills, empathy building and more. The company also offers immersive virtual reality training courses in addition to video-based offerings.
Founded in 2020, Electives provides leadership training classes with a twist. Instead of the traditional, business-focused instructor leading the course, the company sources its leaders from professionals across a variety of professions (akin to MasterClass). Instructors include psychologists, stand-up comedians and former FBI agents who all translate their experience into different leadership courses. The company also provides customized training courses and follows up with additional content after a course to increase retention and engagement with the material.
One of the biggest challenges with any leadership training is getting the information to stick. LifeLabs Learning stands out for its attempts to solve this issue by breaking up its training into smaller workshops and then a follow-up series that reviews the material three months later to reiterate its lessons.
The company offers both a manager and executive curriculum. The courses include weekly two-hour training sessions that focus on topics like coaching, strategic thinking and how to host effective one-on-ones. After each workshop, leaders are given tasks to put those lessons into action. They’ll also receive a review session six months later. LifeLabs Learning offers both live and in-person training.
The rise of online learning has made it possible for companies and leaders to put together their own leadership training curriculum. Coursera offers a wide variety of leadership training courses from some of the biggest universities and training companies across the world. Notable programs include organizational leadership from Northwestern University, inspirational leadership from Paris business school HEC and inclusive leadership from the University of Colorado.
Global Mentor Network
Not every leadership training program has to come in the form of a webinar or workshop. Sometimes the best lessons can come from the insights only a mentor can provide. For many leaders, however, it can be difficult to find a mentor. Enter Global Mentor Network, a company that aims to help leaders grow through mentorship.
Some notable mentors include Kellogg Foundation Founder and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron, former Clorox CEO Benno Dorer and RealReal CEO Julie Wainwright. Members can reach out to mentors to ask questions, attend leadership training webinars and even serve as a mentor themselves.
Not every company has the budget to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars into training. LinkedIn Learning offers an affordable training alternative for companies on a budget or leaders looking to hone their chops. There are programs for emerging leaders and experienced ones. Lessons run anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours and come with a certificate of completion that you can add to your resume.
Powered by MIT SMR, SkillSoft is an online leadership training platform that offers a variety of courses. Named a top leadership training company in 2022, SkillSoft’s courses focus on topics like transitioning to middle management, being a leader in the digital era and working in senior management. Learners can also pick from certification courses such as VMware, Project Management Institute and Oracle. The platform offers both team and individual learning plans that can be used on a monthly or annual basis.
Another option for companies looking for accessible and affordable online learning, is MindTools. The platform features quizzes, templates, worksheets and expert interviews. Users can take courses focusing on topics ranging from time management and communication skills to decision making and creativity tools. Monthly, annual and multi-year memberships are available and members have access to over 2,400 resources.
Ariel is a unique training platform because it offers virtual and in-person sessions as well as digital opportunities. According to its website, the platform is being used by more than 1,000 companies across the globe. Ariel offers training focusing on leadership, strategic writing and building trust. Learners can choose from online courses, webinars and more. Aerial aims to serve companies across industries with clients ranging from leaders in higher education, healthcare as well as tech and finance.
The Darkest Horse
Minority and women-led, The Darkest Horse aims to help companies create a more diverse and inclusive culture through a comprehensive training program. Part of its offering includes developing in-house DEI leaders. Beyond helping the leaders create employee resource groups and facilitate conversations around how race and identity show up at work, the program also connects attendees with a community of other DEI thought leaders and helps them design broader corporate initiatives.
She+ Geeks Out
She+ Geeks Out is a DEI consulting firm that seeks to eliminate inequity in the workplace through training and education. Besides company-wide training, it also provides an executive leadership program designed to help founders, VPs and executives examine their own privilege and foster a more inclusive and equitable environment. The training, which includes five two-hour sessions, is designed to provide a safe space for leaders to have difficult conversations about the roles unconscious bias and privilege play in the workplace. At the end, leaders create an action plan to foster a more inclusive culture within their own companies.