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The 3 C’s of a successful leadership development training program


A leadership development training program is a goal of many businesses, but what exactly does it include? What should it include? How can it be successful?

The benefits of an in-house leadership development training program are worth figuring out the answers to those questions. A successful program can increase productivity, nurture and retain talent, improve employee engagement and enhance your employer brand in ways that may help attract new staff members. It can also be a priceless tool in diversifying leadership.

Far too often, however, people can get stuck on the nuts and bolts of developing and implementing a system. And, yes, those things – determining training methods, selecting who will be trained, setting an implementation calendar, evaluating progress – are incredibly important considerations.

More crucial, however, are the overarching philosophy and habits through which you plan to cultivate your leadership experience.

The 3 C’s of a leadership development training program

When it comes to equipping your organization’s leaders and future leaders with what they need to be successful, there are three core components to consider:

  • Connection
  • Culture
  • Competency

As you sit down with your leadership team and decide how to get the most from your talent, how would you rank these core components in order of importance?

Competency may feel like a natural starting point since, in many ways, it’s easiest to visualize how increased competency could lead to business growth. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But, before starting with competency, consider how connection and culture are the glue that holds competency together.

Competency is the thing that we need from people, but connection and culture are what actually maintains a business. If there is no connection and the culture is bad, then leaders and their teams may decide to take their competencies somewhere else. 

There’s no right or wrong answer on where to begin; consider looking at it like the three C’s are dependent on each other, and find a balance that works best for your leadership team.

Let’s look at the three C’s of a successful leadership program through this scenario:

Bob from your leadership team comes to you and says he’s having conflict left and right with his team. Everyone is always complaining; everyone is always upset. People are hinting at leaving if things don’t change.

Where does he go from here?


This core component of a leadership development training program centers on interpersonal engagement, including how we understand, value and nurture the gifts of the people we hire.

It’s also the piece with which most people struggle. Connection skills are soft skills, but that doesn’t mean they’re “weak.” In fact, they are quite powerful. Competency is what we expect from people, culture is what employees live in, but connection is what employees need.

How does connection fit into a leadership development program?

To connect well – and in ways that will motivate others to achieve more professionally, we have the opportunity to minimize our needs while maximizing our emotional awareness of others’ needs.

So, in the scenario above, how does connection come into play? Should Bob rush to eliminate the complaints in order to quickly get back to “productivity?” Or should he ask himself, Why are these individuals upset? Are the individual needs of each person on the team being met? Are personality differences getting in the way, creating disconnection in the group?

When we lead others, we must learn to not just say the right thing but also say it skillfully. It’s easy to want to find resolution, but the interaction needs to address the root of what is causing the problem.

So, how does someone develop emotional intelligence? A good starting point is utilizing and applying

behavioral assessments (DISC), EQ training and practicing servant leadership. Emotional intelligence and the skills needed to connect with others (empathy, vulnerability, respect) are also learned through the awareness of the assessment and mindful practice as part of your culture.

Peer-to-peer and mentor relationships create an opportunity for observing people who possess skills another person may not have, and for reflecting on where one might still have room for growth. This is not a one-and-done process. Connecting with people is an ongoing way to strengthen or weaken your organization.


The work climate we create is the foundational context through which our people use their gifts. This is the experience that employees and leadership hold in common.

Overall, culture reflects what our employees say about their day-to-day interactions – through our mission, vision and values statements – and how leaders live those out by example for the rest of the company.

How does culture fit into a leadership development program?

You may have a great culture on paper, but if you’re not treating your people with dignity (at a minimum) or getting to know the people with whom you work in a collegial, productive way, then – again – it’s going to be hard to lead them anywhere. People want to know that you care.

If there’s any consistent misalignment apparent between what the core values posters say and what the people are experiencing, then you run the very real risk of losing the power of the culture you desire. Intentions can only go so far – if your organization values servant leadership, your employees will want to see that in action.

Remember: Your values are a foundation for your culture. Regardless of how much change may occur, the values are the stability point that everyone can look to for guidance.

Going back to the Bob scenario, culture is what’s established both before the conflict arises, as it’s happening, and as it’s being resolved. Think about the culture as something that’s underlying everything else. It’s shaped in an environment of connection (like Bob discussing with his team what their needs are) paired with the competencies each person has.

Without a shared sense of purpose, it’s hard to lead a team toward a common goal.

Think about how your leaders are carrying out your mission, vision and values. How can your leadership development program support that even further? Could a scenario like Bob’s have been avoided if his team felt more connected to the company’s core values?

Maybe start at the ground level. What does your culture look like currently? Is it based on connection, or is it based on power, force or guilt?


This core piece reflects the gifts and strengths your people willingly or unwillingly share. It’s the day-to-day use of their skills and abilities – both now and moving forward with the organization.

Parts of competency may include:

  • Conflict resolution
  • Time management
  • Professional skills and potential capabilities

But competency is not just conflict resolution. Conflicts are created that cause people not to work well. It is about holding people accountable, but if the culture and connection aren’t there, then no one will feel valued or part of the team, and competencies will be withheld.

Think of competency beyond the worker-based factors:

How does competency fit into a leadership development program?

If you’ve created a company in which the culture and connections are solid and steady, your employees are more likely to move beyond just doing the basics to giving you their full discretionary effort. They’re more likely to bring you all their gifts, not just the obvious skills, abilities, experience and degrees for which you hired them.

Building trust is where Bob’s scenario fits in with competency. If his teammates trust him enough to talk through their needs and disconnection, the team will be able to move forward. If they don’t trust Bob, they will either go somewhere else or, even worse, keep working and sabotage Bob.

Consider that you can increase and enhance your competency by understanding connection and culture. That opens up new growth potential (for them, for you and for your company) and increases engagement, while adding to your company culture in meaningful ways.

Looking for suggestions for how to implement the 3 C’s?

Connection: You can utilize DISC, EQ, StrengthsFinder, etc. – think about tools and development that increase awareness of the individual while teaching how to understand and value those with whom you work.

Culture: You can utilize servant leadership – think about a culture based on influence, not power or control.

Competency: You can utilize 360 Assessments or Situational Leadership II – think about a model that helps your leaders develop the competencies you are seeking.

Summing it all up

Connection, culture and competency, when working in cohesion (the unofficial fourth C), can be a formula for success in developing a leadership development training program.

Culture is what employees live in, connection is what they need, and competency is what they give. How are all three wrapped into your mission, vision and values, and how are leaders taught to live those out by example?

Curious to learn more about leading your people well? Download our free e-book: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.