Designing A Leadership Development Program Checklist

Yesterday I acknowledged a mistake I was making in my work to develop student leaders (post link: My Latest Leadership Development Mistake). Thank you to those who took the time to affirm me. I love the process of learning. In fact, the mistakes are a teaching tool for me. If I’m not making mistakes, I’m not pushing hard enough.

But mistakes aren’t all that helpful unless you learn from them. I’m trying to do that right now.

I knew early on, when you create a leadership development program, the best place to start is with the outcomes. This helps you identify what you want your students to know, do, and become throughout the process. As one wise professor taught me, “Plan backward, implement forward.”

I felt like I did my homework and created a program that had tangible, realistic outcomes. But as I stated in yesterday’s post, I didn’t connect the dots with my students as well as I could have. Students would acknowledge the outcomes as good ideas, but not necessarily worthy of the investment to achieve them.

So I’m working on a checklist of methods that will connect students with why leadership development is important and a worthy investment.


Teaching and training leadership works best in the context of relationship. Relationship is formed through trust and a commitment to add value to the other person. Students need mentors, models, and motivators that speak into their lives in a personal way.

Intrinsic Value

A quality leadership development program will constantly answer the question: What makes this meaningful to me? It will show examples of what happens when people lead well and the consequences of when they don’t. The training has to find a way to connect with students in an emotional way – be inspiring and motivating.


Students need to know up front what type of commitment this will mean. Trainings should follow a pattern (monthly, weekly, etc.). Students shouldn’t have to guess what they need to do and when they need to do it when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the program. The process should have very clear entry and exit points.

Tangible Rewards

The obvious reward is that one will become a better leader (at the very least there’s the hope of that). But there needs to be something more. I’m looking into creating a certification program that goes along with our training. At our institution, we’ve begun to investigate the possibility of making leadership development training a prerequisite of actually serving in a student leadership position. The goal is to show that the investment in one’s leadership capabilities has benefits for today, not just someday. Which leads right into the next item…


A quality leadership development program has to provide opportunities for students to put what they’re learning into practice…immediately. One-size-fits-all training initiatives aren’t as effective as those that identify and deal with the unique situations your students face.


It’s no longer enough to offer leadership training in one form. There needs to be multiple streams and efforts. Training can take the form of one-on-one mentoring, webcasts, podcasts, seminars, books, downloadable pdfs, etc. There are so many ways to communicate. Training doesn’t need to be confined by time and location. But as you develop different tools and training opportunities, make sure that you don’t forget about the importance of consistency.


No leadership development program is perfect. In order to be effective, to remain effective, there must be mechanisms in place to evaluate what’s going on. Students need ways to offer feedback. If a program isn’t working, don’t you want to know …and know why? The reason I’m even taking the time to develop this checklist is because of an evaluation process I have in place.

What do you think?
Are there other components you would add to the list?
How have you implemented these elements in your own program?

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