How Long Should a Leadership Development Programme Be?

By Heather Campbell

How long should a leadership development programme be?How do you decide how long your leadership development programmes should be?

This is a challenge in many organisations, and there are usually two deciding factors involved:

  • The budget you have available for the specific programme
  • How many days you think leaders will be prepared to invest in attending the workshop(s)

If you’re like most HR and L&D professionals I meet, you already recognise that – usually – neither the budget nor the time available are sufficient to really get the results required – but you feel your hands are tied.

Mind you, unlimited budget and unlimited time aren’t the answers either. Too much of a good thing is usually as bad as too little (I’m guessing this is a problem you’d love to have though, right?!).

Over the years of helping leaders and organisations build better communication habits, we’ve found that there are some good rules of thumb that will help you decide just how much time will be required to achieve results – in relation to leadership communication, at least.

If you’re developing your leaders to handle a specific type of one-off conversation, you can usually achieve good results in as little as half a day.

One example of where this has worked with our clients was preparing leaders to give feedback on the results of a job evaluation process. Another example was getting IT managers equipped to deal with pushback from operational managers following outsourcing of certain IT services.

A half-day is enough to give the critical skills and techniques leaders will need in these highly specific instances.

However, if you are developing leaders to become better at a specific area of workplace communication – such as influencing, coaching or having performance conversations – expect to need at least three days. Ideally, in our experience, these should be split into a two-day workshop and a one-day workshop.

The first two days give enough time to build core knowledge, and practise new skills and behaviours. The one-day follow-up session is ideally held 4-6 weeks later, allowing leaders to put the new approaches into practice in the real world before coming back to build on that in the second workshop.

You’ll also find that, just by knowing there’s a third day coming up, leaders are more likely to actually do things differently. It gives them that all-important focus.

And finally, if you’re looking for wider changes, such as increased productivity across a department, or a more agile culture, expect anything from five to eight workshop days spread over a number of months.

Yes, this usually causes a sharp intake of breath. But, the reality is, big results require significant investment. And the investment will ultimately repay itself many times over, however daunting it can seem at first.

Of course, there are many variations on a theme – online learning, one-to-one and group coaching, and work-based learning sets can all be brought into the mix. But, if you’re planning workshops specifically, this gives you a start point.

However, you CAN cut down the time/money invested in all of these options significantly (except maybe the half-day workshop!) if you take two key actions. More about that in my next blog… 🙂

[Image courtesy of Suat Eman at]

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