How to Kick Off Your Leadership Development Program

Ultimate Guide to Leadership Development

Think Strategically About Implementation

As you move into the launch phase of your leadership development program, it’s time to build excitement and energy about the initiative. That's why it’s crucial to think strategically about how to kick off your leadership development program.

In this section, we will share why a kickoff strategy matters and offer some tried and tested steps to launch your leadership development program with impact.

Why a Kickoff Strategy Matters

Whether virtual or in-person, a kickoff is an opportunity to build excitement and commitment for your leadership development program. You are excited for your leaders to dive in and start learning. The kickoff is a way to extend that excitement to senior stakeholders, managers of leaders, and of course, leaders themselves.

Keep in mind that a successful kickoff is not a one-time event. It’s a series of events or touchpoints to engage participants and stakeholders by generating enthusiasm and setting expectations for the culture of development you want to create. At each kickoff touchpoint, participants and stakeholders should draw positive energy and see examples of how this development program is an important commitment for your organization. Make sure to include all of your stakeholder groups, in addition to participants themselves.

A Successful Kickoff in 4 Steps

Here are four steps we recommend when setting up your kickoff:

1. CEO Message

This message can be recorded and used for multiple cohorts or delivered live. The goal is to convey to leaders the importance of the leadership program. The message doesn’t have to be long; 10-15 minutes is plenty of time to build energy.

a business professional, clipboard in hand, with lines coming out of the clipboard pointing to illustrations of three other people in the organization, written to the right: The message also doesn’t have to be delivered by the CEO. There may be another senior leader that employees respect who is a good fit to make the exciting announcement about the kickoff of your leadership development program.

You’ll want to spend time supporting your senior stakeholder to discuss how they’ll deliver the message. They need to build up excitement about the program and talk about the impact of developing current leaders at your organization. Make sure the message articulates what better leaders are going to do for the future of your company, your strategy, your culture, and your customers.

2. Kickoff Meeting

Similar to the CEO message, the kickoff meeting can happen in-person or virtually. This meeting should include both the leaders and their managers and accomplish the following objectives:

  • Sets expectations for the learning journey.
  • Explains what's in it for leaders, the organization, and our clients.
  • Answers leaders’ questions.
  • Defines what great leadership looks like at your organization.

This meeting is most effective delivered live because leaders can engage with questions in real time.

It is best practice for managers of the leaders to attend a kickoff with their leaders. Why? By holding one event, everyone hears exactly the same message and can draw energy from each other. After the kickoff, managers can use the same messages to support and build momentum for their leader’s development journey.

Another option is to hold separate kickoff meetings for leaders’ managers. Holding a separate kickoff may allow you to tailor the content and help managers understand how they can support leaders.

3. Activating

The third step involves putting some responsibility on leaders to begin accessing learning content on their own.

Introduce leaders to microlearning options that target specific topics or moments. This first learning experience typically includes a curated set of content that’s available to leaders through your program’s delivery platform.

Content should be relevant and focused on areas related to the overall program, but might also give leaders an opportunity to explore areas of particular interest. For example, there may be an option for learners to access resources on how to address poor performance on their team. Or how to have difficult conversations with their teams.

Having the autonomy to quickly access content on their own, and content that addresses immediate needs, will help build your learners’ excitement for your company’s leadership development program.

4. Meet in Peer Learning Groups

In the final step of a successful kickoff, leaders should meet with other leaders going through the same development journey using peer learning groups. In this first peer group session, it makes sense to schedule future peer group sessions and establish ground rules. If the group of peers doesn’t know each other well yet, some “speed networking” may be helpful.

The Kickoff Is Crucial

It’s important to the success of your program to include the kickoff as a strategic part of your leadership development program.

Following these four steps for how to kick off your leadership development initiative will help you set clear expectations for everyone involved from the get-go and get everyone set up for success. But most importantly, following these kickoff best practices will help to build energy for your program early and help to keep that energy high throughout your leaders’ development journeys.