The Five Keys to Successful Leadership Development

Leadership Development is essential to the success of an organization. No matter what measure you use, companies with effective leaders execute better, and deliver more powerful, tangible business performance. Working with hundreds of thousands of leaders in more than 100 countries, BTS has been able to discern and distill the keys to successful leadership development:

  1. Leaders who are engaged in developing their reports are more effective at setting expectations, linking learning to strategic priorities, and providing relevant coaching;
  2. Business Simulations and Experiential Learning work across leadership styles, learning styles, and geographic or cultural boundaries;
  3. Customized leadership development programs tie learning back to real-world business strategies, competencies, and culture;
  4. A blended combination of instructor-led classroom leadership development with online and virtual programs create the most significant long-term impact;
  5. Leadership development programs need to be delivered globally, translated into local languages and business norms.

BTS Learning and Execution Journeys

The BTS approach to leadership development includes a comprehensive series of systems and curricula, which thoughtfully engages leaders over time. An example created for one client comprises a learning journey over 12 weeks to allow for application and true behavior change:

Learning and Execution Journey

Which Types of Leaders Do You Need To Develop First?

Leadership development is essential across the organization. In order to drive strategy execution, it’s important to meet the needs of leaders at different levels of the organization.

Leadership Development Definition

There are well over 120,000 books and texts on the subject of leadership and leadership development. Some 3,000 new titles are added annually. Thousands of research, scientific and academic articles, whitepapers and case studies tackle the topic as well.

Needless to say there are many, and often differing, leadership development definitions. Through experience with clients and synthesizing some top leading authorities, we do, however, subscribe to a set of core assumptions in approaching a definition:

Leadership development expands the capacity of individuals to perform in leadership roles within organizations. Leadership roles are those that facilitate execution of a company’s strategy through: building alignment, winning mindshare and growing the capabilities of others. Leadership roles may be formal, with the corresponding authority to make decisions and take responsibility, or they may be informal roles with little official authority (e.g., a member of a team who influences team engagement, purpose and direction; a lateral peer who must listen and negotiate through influence).

Leadership Development Definition Image

Leadership Skills Can Be Taught

The empirical research of Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman*has contributed to our second major assumption: leadership skills can be taught. Just as people aren't all born with the ability to become the next professional athlete, preeminent biochemical engineer, or piano virtuoso, people aren't all born with the ability to lead. Different personal characteristics can help or hinder a person's leadership effectiveness; some require formalized programs for developing leadership capacity. This is not to say that everyone can be skilled to the same level, but essential leadership skills are within everyone’s grasp.

Leadership Development is a Journey

Our third assumption is that leadership development is a journey and many equally viable paths are available to the traveler. There is no one best way to lead, nor is there a single best leadership model. In differing situations there may be differing expectations of leaders and different practices that make them effective. BTS is model-agnostic when working with our clients to accommodate a set of preferred outcomes and a broad range of approaches to thought leadership for developing leaders. What does matter is the learning approach adopted when developing leadership skills.

Leadership Development Taught in Safe Environment

Not all leadership development leads to building leadership behavior. Experiential learning provides the greatest rate of success for transforming high potentials into high functioning leaders. Emerging leaders must be provided the opportunity to practice—in a safe environment—to truly build leadership competence. BTS leverages our discovery based approaches of Business Simulations, Scenario Simulation, Engage Map™ learning and blended on-line systems and tools to provide exceptional leadership development that changes behavior.

*The Extraordinary Leader", Jack Zenger, Joesphe Folkman. 2002, McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.

Front-Line Execution Driven by Front-Line Leaders

Strategic execution is realized through people. The largest group with the opportunity to impact the alignment, mindset and capabilities of others around a strategy are an organization’s front-line leaders. Front-line managers, along with their direct reports, either directly or indirectly, touch every single client in an organization. And yet, through our client work and a review of current research, we’ve found that front-line leaders are woefully underserved:

  1. Lack of business focus— In a study by Bersin and Associates, only 27% of the organizations studied actually linked their management development to strategic results. The research found that the great majority of companies relied upon a patchwork of disparate training courses linked to personal development, rather than the 27% who used an integrated learning approach tied to the business outcomes.
  2. Under investing—Additionally, research shows that companies spend far more on the development of executives and technical specialists (23% and 25% respectively of training budgets) than on this critical audience of front-line managers (9%).

Give Front-Line Leaders Business Essentials

To support clients in better addressing the needs of this audience, the BTS Leadership and Management practice launched Front-Line Execution. Front-Line Execution is an approach for getting front-liners focused on the essentials that achieve business results. And when clients are global, we turn that approach into a unified, consistent, global reaching program, driving consistency in behavior, yet with capacity for local delivery.

Clients turn to BTS when developing their front-line leaders because of our:

  • experiential approach to learning,
  • ability to create a highly customized, blended Execution and Learning Journey,
  • expertise in engaging leaders of the learner in the process
  • ability to have an impact on business results, measurable through our proprietary process, the Advantage Way™, and for high quality delivery capability and strong global reach

Leading From the Middle

Charan, Drotter, and Noel, in the seminal work The Leadership Pipeline define the "passages" a typical manager might experience in their career progression. One of the passages that creates the greatest challenges for leaders is when going from leading others to manager of managers. According to the authors, there are five critical signs of the misplaced manager of managers:

People who are struggling with the manager-of-managers role usually are having problems with core leadership skills…Difficulty delegating; Poor performance management; Failure to build a strong team; Single-minded focus on getting the work done; and Choosing clones over contributors.


Additionally, leaders in the middle often have some of the largest spans of control, and multiple teams, and are accountable for large budgets and developing pools of talent while wielding significant influence in the organization. Their leadership reality includes the ever-increasing complexity of being “caught in the middle of the crossfire to execute for all their internal customers”.

To address the unique development needs of this crucial audience, BTS developed “Leading from the Middle” as a customizable leadership experience, leveraging best-in-class experiential learning content and based on best-practices research. Leading from the Middle addresses the unique challenges of balancing the need to effectively influence up, down, and across the enterprise.

Rather than taking a “one-size-fits all” approach, Leading from the Middle is a flexible, modular content approach that is easily customized to the unique needs of our client organizations. Leading from the Middle is also not a traditional subject matter expert lecture/case study-driven approach to manager of managers development. Leading from the Middle leverages our experiential-based learning approaches of Business Simulation, Scenario Simulation, Engage Map™ learning and blended on-line systems—tools that change behavior—to provide exceptional leadership development.

Learning and Execution Journeys

Developing leaders who grow others to accomplish at increasingly higher levels of performance does not occur through single-event training. BTS Execution and Learning Journeys address building leadership and managerial capability through a holistic approach. The journey starts off with a “prime” phase. This prime stage is about establishing the business and personal relevance for participating in learning—creating a personal rationale for achievement and a line of sight with desired business outcomes. Leaders and managers then engage in learning and grow new capabilities (whether that is delivered through group workshops or delivered to groups of learners through virtual technology). This is followed by learning sustainment, which is about enriching, continuing and reinforcing the primary learning.

Learning and Execution Journeys are especially positioned to address the learning style and needs of generations X and Y (better known as the Millennials). They are the first generation in human history who regard behaviors like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia, not as astonishing innovations of the digital era, but as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding. These generations take simulation and interactive learning as a given. Our use of learning portals leverages, and emulates on a professional level, their natural tendency toward networking and collaboration.

Discover what our many clients already know about having a partner like BTS: These approaches, and our experience in developing leaders of today, can propel your strategic execution forward.

High Potential Leaders

High Potential Leaders

Faced with the highest expectations, the most challenging assignments, and the need to build effective teams quickly, leadership development is essential when it comes to ‘high potential’ leaders. The group demands a different level of support and inspiration to hone leadership skills and increase agility.

Creating Performance Agility

Learning Support: E-tools and Learning Extensions - Beyond the Classroom

To drive lasting behavioral change and business results, more than a powerful classroom is required. We recommend a combination of tools, both pre-workshop and as learning extensions in conjunction with experiential classroom workshops, to maximize results.



Over 480 pages of best practices culled from seasoned managers and professionals around performance management. This user-friendly tool allows managers quick access to the important issues for which they seek guidance.

Peak Performer

A powerful interactive tool designed to assist managers by providing a diagnostic roadmap to uncover root causes of performance issues.


Imagine your own on-line coach for guiding and directing your professional development. Containing eight leadership/management categories, Developer is populated with over 1,500 current and recommended books, articles, blogs, websites, mini-assessments, tools and resources for the developing manager.

Learning Extensions

The development of customized learning extensions to reinforce and extend classroom activities is another hallmark of BTS Leadership and Management Programs. Our learning extensions are jointly developed with our clients based on their unique needs and desired results.

Strategic Customization

BTS believes people learn best when information and the learning process are highly relevant to the most significant challenges and issues they confront in the workplace. Consequently, the learning methodology, key outcomes, and language must be aligned with the learner's organization and personal environment. Specifically linking the program learning to the participants' real-world experiences is, in part, what makes our learning programs so successful.


New employees are 69% more likely to stay at their jobs after three years if they've experienced a well structured on-boarding program. Rapid on-boarding orients new employees to an organization, as it drives organizational transformation and change.

Practical Onboarding: Developing High Performing, Engaged Employees

Onboarding can and should be one of the most exciting, dynamic and defining moments in an employee’s career. The most effective onboarding is about creating a strong emotional connection between the employee and employer. To establish a positive, long-term relationship, new employees learn about the company’s history and leadership, core values and future direction. During this process, they should be immersed in the company’s business and industry, so they have a clear understanding of how the enterprise creates value and differentiates itself from competitors. Most importantly, new employees should strongly recognize their role in the business.

The BTS Onboarding Experience: The Formula for Success

BTS has created successful onboarding learning and execution journeys for dozens of leading corporations, including AT&T, CCE, Humana, Microsoft, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Unilever and UPS. The foundation of a successful onboarding program includes:

  • Engaging employees early on in their employment, ideally on or even before their first day
  • Providing a structured approach to accelerate assimilation into new roles and company culture
  • Providing a framework for managers to create and manage position-specific onboarding plans to accelerate job effectiveness
  • Fostering basic business acumen around how the company operates, makes money and helping each employee connect specific job responsibilities to higher organizational goals and business outcomes

Pre-event activities set the stage for learning; post-event activities reinforce that learning through rapid application on the job.

While each BTS program is unique, the flow generally involves a series of engaging, blended learning experiences with leader involvement throughout the process. The following is an example of a 12-week process:

1. Preparation: Leader Engagement; Portal and Online Community: It is mission critical that the manager of the new hire is involved in the onboarding process, providing context, coaching and follow-up support. Through our Advantage Way process, we provide tools to facilitate leader learner engagement. A learning portal houses the tools and provides an important online community for the new hire.

2. Core Orientation Workshop: One- or two-day classroom experience leveraging Engage Maps accelerates the new hire’s assimilation into the company, business and culture as follows:

  • Our history: The company’s industry, history and unique values
  • Our current reality: The company’s core processes that create value for customers
  • Our exciting future: The company’s vision and strategy, and individual action planning on how to align with company’s priorities throughout the onboarding experience

3. Online Know-the-Business Program: Important Learning of the Company’s Finances, Strategic Priorities, Customer Value Drivers and More: In the month following the core program, participants gain access to two or three online Know-the-Business Programs that can be completed by individuals or teams of learners. The programs build financial acumen and strategic thinking in context of the company’s business and strategic priorities. Each module is customized to the client’s business and takes approximately two hours to complete. These modules are highly interactive and provide community for new hires to share experiences and best practices.

4. Company Business Simulation: Approximately eight weeks after completion of the core program and after the Know-the-Business Modules, participants reconvene for a half-, one- or one-and-a-half-day Board Simulation program to build business acumen and strategic thinking. This program leverages the BTS Custom Business Simulation and Company Presentations.

5. Ongoing Leader/Manager Meetings: Post-program, participants meet with their leader to share action plans and receive ongoing coaching to ensure successful execution back on the job. Tools available on the portal and online community support this process.

Onboarding Can Drive Value at Any Organization

Successful onboarding leads to accelerated productivity, improved retention and deeper bench strength, higher employee satisfaction, and engaged employees who execute on the organization’s strategic objectives and deliver results. Hiring new employees is an investment and establishing a formal onboarding process is essential. Whether the company has 100 people or 100,000, the lessons are the same. By coupling necessary skills with an emotional commitment to sustaining the company and its culture, onboarding builds short- and long-term company value.

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