How to develop leadership skills in employees

10 min read time

Leadership skills are all about bringing out the best in people, encouraging them to come together and ultimately, creating real change in your business. Leaders are essential for driving growth, delivering innovative solutions and developing effective teams.

So, it’s no wonder then that leadership and management were the top-demanded skills for businesses in 2022.

That said, skill gaps within leadership and management continue to cause problems for many employers. With companies striving to retain employees and promote from within, many employers may find they do not have the skills within the business or their new hires to inspire change and motivation for today, or the future.

Leadership skills gaps have been accelerated by other problems businesses are currently facing, whether that's digital skill shortages, generational shifts or the changing demands of employees. As the working world continues to change, the need for strong leaders grows.

But how do you find the right leaders for your team? It’s not always the case that you need to hire employees with specific skill sets. Leadership apprenticeship training programmes funded through the levy are a fantastic opportunity to fill in skills gaps within your current workforce. In this article, we’ll explore the current leadership skills gap and how to develop leaders in the workplace.


Why is leadership important in business?

Having strong leadership skills in the workplace creates a more productive team that is empowered to achieve business goals. Upskilling leaders is essential in the new world of work; Forbes has stated that 55% of employees feel like that they would need to leave their company for opportunities to develop their skillset.

Not only that, but half of UK adults believe that leadership is the most important skill for a manager to have (beating teamwork skills, problem-solving and even conflict resolution). And the reasons why aren’t surprising.

Managers with good leadership skills bring out the best in every employee, ensuring that they come to work feeling motivated and enjoy what they do. Without this inspiration, your team may look for jobs elsewhere. In fact, it was reported that more than a third of UK employees planned to quit their jobs due to their managers not inspiring them.

With the right leadership, tasks are evenly distributed. This prevents burnout while giving employees the chance to take on new challenges and grow their skills. Leadership skills at work also drive your business vision.

Each task employees take on contributes to your business strategy, coming together to work towards the same goal. Productivity is maximised and your team feels excited about achieving targets – but they’re also invested in the overall success of the business.

What are the current skills gaps in leadership and management?

Leadership and management gaps are a combination of multiple skills, such as:

  • Inspiring creativity and motivation
  • Time and performance management
  • Responsibility/delegation
  • Leading change
  • Strategic planning
  • Relationship building
  • Stakeholder management
  • Financial management
  • Operational management

Employees have also listed what they think are the skills managers need. For example, almost a third of UK employees would like their managers to possess empathy skills. With approachable, understanding leaders, employees are comfortable seeking the support they need to excel.

Leadership and management skills gaps have been reported across a number of industries. For too long, not enough value has been placed on these skills, despite the fact that strong leadership brings out the best in teams. Now that more emphasis has been placed on managers and workplace culture as a whole, it’s become clear that these skills play a significant role in optimising working environments.

Why is there a leadership skills gap?

The pandemic has left UK businesses with numerous issues that have only further exposed leadership skills gaps. However, COVID is not what caused the gap in the first place. There have been articles reporting on poor leadership in the workplace for years, such as in 2010 and 2012, suggesting that little progress has been made when it comes to training in leadership skills.

COVID is responsible for changing various aspects of working patterns and processes, meaning that leaders now need to have the skills to thrive in a remote or hybrid environment, while understanding new business models and the benefits they bring.

In a time where job hopping is high and employers’ treatment of employees is under more scrutiny than before, it’s important to help employees build the leadership skills needed to progress and drive business impact.

What are the key challenges in bridging the leadership and management skills gap?

Many businesses want to start improving leadership in the workplace, but there are obstacles that make it hard to know where to start:

  • The idea of leadership has changed over the years. Leadership was less collaborative, and managers made decisions with little input from other team members. Now, leadership is recognised as a skill that needs to be developed, so that ideas and decisions are delivered in a way that employees can get behind, allowing for a more open, collaborative approach.
  • Employees used to stay in their jobs for long periods of time. This makes it easier for employers to identify future managers. It’s now more common for people to change jobs frequently, which, for some employers, means it’s harder to upskill employees.
  • Flat hierarchies have become more common for businesses. This has led to less traditional and linear career paths for employees. This can make it harder to map job routes and emphasises the need to adopt key skills throughout your workforce rather than focusing on managers only.
  • The digital skills shortage. Leadership and management are not the only skill sets in short supply. Technology has evolved quickly over the years and businesses haven’t kept up, further emphasised by the shift to virtual working. Employees need leaders to help lead the adaptations this change has brought. Find out more about bringing digital skills to your business.

HR and Learning and Development managers are rethinking their training strategies, identifying where exactly their skill gaps lie and looking to put in place clear, robust programmes that will help develop leadership and management skills throughout their business.

How to develop leadership skills in your employees

It’s never too late to re-think and re-visit how your business is training employees and investing in growing leadership skills to upskill your current workforce.

Leadership and management development programmes, in the form of apprenticeships, are a solution for bridging the leadership and management gap and developing essential management skills in the workplace.

Not only do they eliminate the need for recruitment, but you can also optimise your apprenticeship levy to help you achieve your business goals. Following our recent employer survey (October 2022), our partners said:

agreed that apprenticeships increased the competence of their workforce
agreed that apprenticeships increased the productivity of their employees
agreed that apprenticeships support them in filling skills gaps

Developing the skills needed for leadership

Industry-recognised training in leadership skills provides structured, up-to-date, expert-led development and all-round support for your leaders and managers of the future.

Investing your apprenticeship levy in an established leadership programme not only makes sure your employee is getting the best-in-class training. Because we take on the full management of apprenticeships for you, we also instantly take the pressure off your internal training department.

At Lifetime, we align the training to your business, use practical real-life projects and link your employees’ training seamlessly to their day-to-day roles. Our coaches help delegates navigate any problems they encounter and quickly find a solution. This experience can make all the difference when developing leaders at work.

Leadership and management apprenticeship programmes also help learners boost their confidence as they continue to learn. If an employee is new to the role or your company, they may be feeling hesitant to drive change and lead their co-workers to success.

With an apprenticeship, delegates can adjust to the increased responsibility while learning to navigate more difficult situations. They will learn how to create an open culture, give - and receive - constructive feedback, while celebrating your team’s successes. They will also have a mentor on-hand for additional support.

For employees already in managerial positions, apprenticeships provide a fantastic opportunity to help them gain the skills in leadership they individually need. With the right training, any skill gaps can be filled, bringing new ideas to the table while adopting a learning culture throughout your business.

Creating clear career progression routes

Another advantage of leadership and management apprenticeships is they offer a clear career path. Employees want to know where their careers are headed, and leadership and management apprenticeships give delegates the potential to step up and make a difference (all while learning on the job).

As employees’ roles change over time, apprenticeships give them a clearer picture of where their career is headed. Employees who decide to take on an apprenticeship are clearly eager to move forward and are committed to their job – just the type of leaders any business needs.

You’re also shown to be investing in your team, providing leadership skills training that allows them to excel. This both creates loyalty to you as an employer and helps improve retention rates.

“I wanted to gain additional knowledge and skills to manage my team more efficiently – and improve the organisational culture in my workplace. For me, it's important to invest in developing as a Manager, as this can help my team members to grow too. I’m much more confident and open-minded from a management perspective; I understand how my behaviour and attitude can impact my team's work life and future choices. My brilliant Tutor gave me lots of professional guidance and advice that I will continue to use in the future.”

Lukasz Rutecki, Team Leader Supervisor (Dynamic Leaders) Level 3 Apprentice, Next Distribution

Inspiring cultural change with amazing leaders

As the working world continues to change, it’s important to focus on the future when it comes to leadership skills building. Lifetime’s apprenticeship programmes focus on creating immediate impact, with delegates implementing their learnings from day one.

Employees will realise their potential while helping adopt new processes and strategies, along with the planning and decision-making skills that help navigate new challenges.

Our management programmes include real-life, problem-solving scenarios. This means that your apprentices will be well-prepared to lead employees through your business transformations. Seeing the impact their new ideas bring to the workplace drives employees’ motivation about the work they are doing, but also encourages their co-workers to also get involved.

Lifetime will work with you to make sure you gain the most value from your apprenticeship programmes, for both yourself and your learners. Each course is tailored to solve various business challenges, as well as providing leadership skills for managers.

Building leadership and management skills with Lifetime

At Lifetime, we work with businesses across the UK to upskill their workforce and develop leaders throughout. Between August 2021 and July 2021, we can report an 85% delegate satisfaction score, as well as the following from our Leadership and Management programmes achiever surveys:

CSAT score*
of apprentices agree their performance has improved
of apprentices agree they learnt new skills to bring to their company

* achiever on-programme satisfaction

Our leadership apprenticeships can be aligned to internal management training programmes and used across all areas of management within a business, from operations to support centre, from your line managers to your senior leaders.

Working together, we get to know your values and principles, uncovering the areas where you feel you are lacking. We build bespoke programmes that maximise impact throughout your business, so you're armed with effective solutions for any challenges you are facing.

From our Lifetime Learner Surveys (Jan 2021 - June 2022), we can report the following for Team Leader Supervisor Level 3 achievers:

said it helped them develop new skills
said it improved their job satisfaction
said it gave them a clearer idea of their employment future
said it helped them make recommendations to improve their business
said it helped them reach goals and targets
were still retained, one year after achieving their apprenticeship

“The support network is amazing. If I ever have any questions, I can contact my coach and get an answer within hours.”

Team Leader Supervisor Level 3 Apprentice

Our programmes are designed to provide employees of all levels with industry-leading training, developing them into your leaders of the future. We offer a range of leadership and management apprenticeships:

  • Dynamic Leaders: Team Leader Supervisor Level 3
  • Associate Project Manager Level 4
  • Coaching Professional Level 5
  • Strategic Leaders: Operations Departmental Manager Level 5

“Our partnership with Lifetime has been integral to developing a successful young recruitment strategy. Many of our apprentices have gone on to become managers and supervisors. This talent progression is exactly what we were after – and proves that apprenticeships are an incredibly effective way of developing and retaining talent at M&B.”

Lauren Carroll, Vocational Learning Attraction Manager at Mitchells & Butlers

Building your team’s leadership skills with apprenticeships

Leadership and management skills are key to any workplace - it’s no wonder that nearly half of L&D teams globally are choosing leadership training as a primary focus area. Without strong leadership, there are barriers to success.

Investing in your team and introducing bespoke apprenticeship programmes are an invaluable route for providing employees with desired skills, improving retention, and ultimately, driving change throughout your business.

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