Instructional design

25 minute read

Developing Leadership Training Programs with Rachel Schell | Podcast Ep. 2

Laurel Buckley

Laurel Buckley

In our second episode of The L&D Explorers Podcast, we were honored to host Rachel Schell, a learning design expert.

Founder of Emerging Leaders in L&D, Rachel Schell, shares her expertise in creating effective leadership training programs that leverage technology, bridge generational gaps, and use mentorship to create the next generation of leaders. 

This episode is filled with priceless gems that will transform your organization’s leadership development program. 


Mentioned in the episode

Key Takeaways

1. Identifying future leaders

To identify the next generation of leaders and get a better understanding of the current ones, identify those

Within your organization that are… an embodiment of your mission, your vision, and what it is that your company is trying to accomplish.

(Timestamp 3:11 - 3:22)

Actionable Steps: Identify people in different departments and levels of your organization who reflect your mission and vision. These people tend to be excellent candidates for extra leadership training or mentorship.

2. Core skills of leaders 

While each organization’s needs are different, there are specific core skills that all leadership training programs should feature. Rachel suggests,

...start talking to people who have been in leadership for just a year, and then people who have been in leadership for five years, and people in leadership for 20 years… and we take all of that, and build a map of what all the different skills are that people need to be successful leaders within their organization.

(Timestamp 10:10 - 10:35)

Actionable Insight: Gain a broad perspective on leadership by discussing with individuals with varying years of leadership experience within your organization. Find out what tools or training they wished they would have received earlier on, and apply those findings to future training. 

3. Leveraging technology in mentorship 

Having easy and accessible ways for leaders to share their experience and expertise is necessary to encourage emerging leaders to reach out. 

If you've got a handful of leaders that would be willing to jump into a Teams channel or a Slack channel and [answer] some mentoring questions and then just have an open invite for anybody that wants it.

(Timestamp 22:40 - 22:56)

Actionable Insight: Encouraging mentorship to take place within more casual forms of communication (e.g. Slack, Teams) encourages more frequent communication between mentor and mentee, thus strengthening bonds. 

If you’re interested in networking with other L&D professionals and coaching to help you progress in your L&D career, the Emerging Leaders in L&D community is a great place to start. 

We hope you enjoyed this episode of our L&D Explorers Podcast! Subscribe to our YouTube or Podbean so you don’t miss the next episode. 

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Dan Gorgone: Welcome to the L&D Explorers Podcast from GoSkills. On today's episode, we're talking with Rachel Schell. She's the founder of Emerging Leaders in L&D with lots of experience in learning and development. And today's topic is: How do you plan training for the next generation of leaders in your company? We'll talk about leadership training plans, the benefits, how mentoring factors into the equation, and a great way for you to get started with a plan of your own. I'm Dan Gorgone, Course Producer for GoSkills, and I hope you enjoy this discussion. Rachel, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. We're so happy to have you. Rachel Schell is an experienced L&D professional. And this topic today that we're going to talk about is how you can plan training for the next generation of leaders. The next generation of leaders in your company is so important because, as people leave, you want to make sure that you elevate people to those right spots.

But also, there's more to it. You know, there's the type of training that you do and making sure that they understand the mission of the company and have all the right interpersonal skills. And so, this is a great topic. So, thank you so much for coming here today.


Rachel Schell: Yeah, thanks, Dan. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to talk about this. It is something that is near and dear to my heart. So, let's jump into it. 


Dan Gorgone: Yes. How do we create this plan? So, we need future leaders. You know, with whatever kind of turnover you have in your company, you're going to need new leaders at different points in time. And we're not just talking about people who you elevate to management roles or eventually, you know, they can keep going up the ladder. But you need leaders all over the company. You need leaders for discussions within your team. You need team leaders. You need project leaders. You need all kinds of leaders who understand what the culture is of your organization and how to communicate and really, like, how you should be communicating within your organization. Usually, there's kind of a style. So, how do we create this plan? What are the steps that we take?


Rachel Schell: Yeah, so great question. So, really, when you're starting to think about what does the next generation of leaders look like within our organization, the best place to start is where you are now. Look at your culture. So, what is the mission? And what's the vision of your organization? And then, how are you practicing that? So, it's...I know that's easy. That's an easy answer. Like, oh, okay, we just start with our mission and vision. Yes, but you also want to look at the people within the organization that are great examples of your mission and vision.So, for example, Ford's vision is to be the best in the world. And what's really great about the training that they do is they highlight people who are on the plant floor building cars, who embody being the best in the world. So, I challenge you: Who are the people within your organization that are, you know, an embodiment of your mission, your vision, and what it is that your company is trying to accomplish? Now, you're going to probably think of senior-level leaders, and that's wonderful, but start going lower. Like, who else? Who are some of your employees that have been there for a year, two years? Who are those employees that might be first-year managers? Who are employees that are in that middle management level? So, you want to just start looking in all directions. Who are those people that really are great examples of who you want your company to be? Those are going to start steering you in the direction of finding who your next-generation leaders are going to be. And it may be them, or it may just be the qualities of those people that's going to guide you as you start to think about what it is those people look like, who they are.


Dan Gorgone: A leadership plan like this could have a great impact, I mean, across the organization. And we're talking about not just furthering the mission and the vision but also improving things like efficiency and productivity, right?


Rachel Schell: Absolutely. So, it really is kind of taking a holistic look at your company. When you start thinking about this, when I come in and I work with a company to start this process, it's always amazing. We start with one department, and then quickly we're finding out, like, oh, we need to go talk to the C-suite. We need to go talk to HR. We need to go talk to manufacturing. We need to go talk to marketing. And before long, it really becomes like, it's not like typical training where it's like, 'oh, this is training just for this department.' Emerging leadership training or next-generation leadership training or programs like that really begin to embody the entire organization. Everybody gets involved, and that's powerful. That's powerful because you are beginning to see everybody have a voice in, 'This is what our next leaders should look like.' And it may be they help you identify skills that you're going to need because of future problems that are coming. Or it may be that they point out really great skills that your current leaders have that you want to make sure that the next group of leaders are going to carry these skills in with them. So, an example of that would be like, problem-solving. And I know that's an easy one, but a few years ago, a study came out about how fewer and fewer college graduates actually knew problem-solving. So, when I was working with one organization, we were putting together their emerging leadership program within the organization. And so, we were working through, like, what skills do we focus on? And this program was for, like, people who weren't in leadership positions but were interested in one day being promoted up to that. So, we were being proactive and putting some courses in place for them. And the head of marketing actually said, 'I really think we should put some problem-solving courses in here nationwide. We're seeing, like, lower and lower numbers of people actually being able to problem solve, but also we're beginning to see in our own metrics, problems that are, you know, not being solved in an efficient manner because people are like, 'Oh, we just do it this way because that's how we do it.' And it was like, 'Future leaders, we want them to be more creative. We want them to be able to look at these problems and think, 'Oh, gosh, you know, there's a much better way we can do this.'' So, we implemented problem-solving courses that were voluntary for anybody to take after they'd been with the company for nine months. And that ended up helping to build up, you know, what, those future leaders, some of the skills they were going to need as they moved up through the company.


Dan Gorgone: So, I'm hearing actually two things from that example, and they're both kind of great. Right? So, one of them is that you make these courses and you make this training available not just to, like, specific people, but you make it available to everyone because, yes, maybe it sounds corny, but there is a leader inside all of us, isn't there? Right?


Rachel Schell: Absolutely.


Dan Gorgone: But secondly, problem-solving. Absolutely. Problem-solving is like a core skill that everyone needs. I want to hear more about this recipe of what goes into cooking up a development plan. What is it besides problem solving? Certainly, there's going to be other soft skills, and there's going to be, maybe, organization-specific things that go in there. So, what do you think about that? What can you...


Rachel Schell: Yeah, that's a great question. That is a great question. So, research says we know that there are core soft skills that leaders need. And so, whenever I come in and I'm working with an organization, I come in knowing that we're going to need to incorporate problem solving, communication, something around process and procedures, like being able to follow them or create them, management. So, like, usually I'm helping create leadership type development. So, management is part of leadership, but management isn't all of leadership. So, we have management pieces in there, and that may be project management, that may be managing other people. Conflict management is always a piece. So, those are some soft skills that, like, just across the board, leadership research out there shows us that, like, we know people are going to need to do that.

However, every organization is different because they are groups of people, and people all are different, and they have different needs. So, typically what I do is I start with a strategic workshop where we just dive in, and we start looking at what are the qualities of senior leaders that we have now? What are some future problems that we know we're going to need to be prepared to solve? And then, we really get out there, and we're like, what are things that we don't even know about that we need to be prepared for? That's always a fun activity when we do that one. And then, we start going down, and we start talking to people who have been in leadership for just a year, and then people who have been in leadership for five years, and people in leadership for 20 years, the organization, and we take all of that, and we start to build a map of what all the different skills are that people need to be successful leaders within their organization. So, that strategic workshop is something that's done within just a couple of days. But at the end, it actually gives us this wonderful roadmap that doesn't just identify what this emerging leadership program should look like. It actually is a roadmap that the company can use for so many different types of development that they're doing now. One of the things that I really help a lot of organizations do is look for opportunities to help employees who aren't quite in that, like, leadership—they don't have that leadership title. But what are some opportunities we have that these employees can start learning? And when you put that out there, when you give employees opportunities, just knowing who is taking advantage of those, that usually is going to right there show you, like, this is someone to watch out for. This is someone who's interested in moving up and learning how to lead here at our organization.


Dan Gorgone: One of the things I was thinking about as you're talking about that is how important it is to really develop that younger generation that's part of your organization. And, you know, there's going to be, there's generational differences if you, you know, if you want to generalize in some ways. But some of it, some of it's true. To be able to tap into the skills and the knowledge of different generations and to be able to give them the leadership skills, I can see that in the future, as they are adept in these new technologies that maybe the older generations are not, they're going to be able to problem solve with the newer technologies, with newer things that are coming out, be able to adopt those things usually faster than older generations will. It seems like you're setting up the company for success.


Rachel Schell: Absolutely. But, you know, there is a secret here. We're talking about the younger generation, and sure, they might be able to, you know, do things a little bit faster with technology. My daughters, like, just blow me away at, like, what they can pick up and figure out in two minutes. But do not underestimate the power of the person who's been at your organization for more than five years. They bring just this knowledge and this history, which is just as much of the future of your organization as the things that are coming up that we don't even know about. So it all fits together.


So, do you want to know the secret that I use? Like, how do we bridge that? How do we bridge that new generation of leaders coming up with the current leaders we have? It's mentorship. Mentorship is everything. Now, I will say when I bring that up, a lot of people go, "How are we going to have time to do that? Who are we going to find to do that?" But I'll tell you, this is one area where technology makes mentorship just, it really takes it to a whole other evel, and it really doesn't make it, like, such a big thing. Like, it used to be just simple programs like Teams, Slack, things like that, those forums, those can be great mentorship programs. Yes, people will want to meet up in person sometimes, but, you know, a really, really good mentor is someone that you can reach out to when you have a need. So if I all of a sudden have a question or if I'm just having a really tough day and I'm thinking, gosh, am I really cut out to, you know, move up and be promoted and be here at the company knowing that I can jump on Slack or Teams and I can message someone who's been here longer and they can just give me words of encouragement or answer my questions? That's mentorship, you know, and that goes such a long way in helping people to really understand and see, you know, how do I fit in here? Where does this all work for me, and how is this going to be part of my future? So, it's very powerful. Very powerful to use those tools, to use something as simple as mentorship to help bring up that next generation of leaders within your organization. 


Dan Gorgone: This is a great suggestion because I was actually going to ask you about that. How does having this well-researched and well-planned leadership plan, leadership program for your emerging leaders, how does that work with something like mentoring? And is it something where they have to be ingrained as part of each other? Is it something where they can run parallel and really sounds like flexibility is the key, especially with mentoring and be able to use online tools like Zoom and Slack and Teams and things like that. And to know that mentors can be available when you need them make such a huge difference, not just as people are training, but also when they jump into that first leadership role as well.


Rachel Schell: Yeah, so that is such a good point. So going back to the way people learn, when we're talking about training, the thing that science has never really been able to pinpoint is that it clicks. Whatever it is you're learning, it clicks at different times for different people. So, Dan, you might read an article and you're immediately inspired and you're like, this could completely change the way I do my job, right? And you go and you start doing things. I may read the same article and then go about my job and two days later I watch a video related to that same topic and then 3 hours later I might go, oh wait, I think that that could work. So people come to the things that they're learning on their own time, but the one thing that we do know that science backs up is that if you want someone to retain what it is we're teaching them, then you have to have them apply it to their own personal life, so their job or their habits or it has to be applicable. That's what mentors do. Mentors should be asking them questions about the things that they're learning and having them apply it to their own situation, to the job they're currently in now and then helping them think through. How would you use this when you're a leader? How would you use that concept? So, you know, I talked about problem-solving, so I won't go back to that one. Let's talk about communication. So, you know, if you, there's so many courses out there on communication, but I can take this really great course on how to give the best, engaging presentations. But that doesn't really mean anything until I learn how to present within the organization, but present at the job that I'm in. So what does it look like to present as a lead versus a project lead versus presenting as a C-suite executive? So all of those things, mentors are going to help that person take that information, apply it to where they are, and then start thinking about how they would do that in their future situation.


Dan Gorgone: So in listening to what you're saying and talking about the development of a leadership plan and the use of mentoring alongside of it, it feels like there's three core things that are right in the middle of this, and that's the development of skills that you need, everyday skills as well as leadership skills, as well as understanding the culture that you're in, being able to ingrain yourself in that, but also spread it to others. And then strategies, strategies that you can use to get work done and get the best work out of your team that you can when you're leading them, feel like that's we're bringing them all together and as an organization and L&D team in your organization, that's what you're trying to accomplish, right?


Rachel Schell: 100%. And the way that I usually talk about it, the simplified way to think of it is where you were, where you are now, and where you're going. And that's what it is, is we're helping them start with, you know, this is where you were, and you're learning new information. Now, you're applying it to where you are today, and then you're thinking about where you want to go. So, it's past, present, and future. It's a very simplified way of doing it. But absolutely, the skills, developing them, embodying that culture, and then developing strategies that you're going to be able to build upon as you move up into your leadership roles. 


Dan Gorgone: Well, this is great. I want to leave our audience here with some, you know, call to action for themselves. You know, if you've been watching this podcast, you've been watching this discussion with Rachel Shell and myself, then I hope that you're taking some of these ideas and thinking, yes, absolutely. We want to train some leaders of our own. We want to develop. You're probably already thinking, yes, actually, there's a handful of people I can think of already that I know would actually be great leaders within our organization. Somehow, Rachel, what's a good way for people to start to take this information that we've talked about and actually start the process on their own of getting a development plan, leadership development plan started?


Rachel Schell: Yeah, that is a great question, and I hope that that is what you're thinking at this point. So, you want to start by looking at what is going on around you, what's your culture like? So, I usually will start by making a list of, like, these are the things that we know. These are non-negotiables that we know we need, but then don't spend too much time on that because then the thing you need to do is go and talk to the people who have been within your organization for a year and for five years. So, that's kind of your sweet spot. Between one and five years, if you've got new leaders in that group, you want to talk to them as well, you know? So, leaders who have been in the position for less than a year, what are some things that you wish you would have known? What are some things that would have helped you? What are some skills that you could have learned before you got here that would have made this transition easier for you? That is going to give you the data you need to start moving forward. Based on those answers, go use the tools that are out there and ready to go. So, using platforms like GoSkills is such a great way to go in and go, gosh, we had like five new leaders tell us that they wish that they were better communicators. Like, that's been a real struggle for them. So, go to GoSkills. See what communication courses are available and make that available to people before they're ever in those leadership roles. You know, let them have those opportunities and do that with all the different skills. Like, ask what it is that they need help with and put that in place. And then, something else you can do that's really simple, ask if you've got a handful of leaders that would be willing to jump into a Teams channel or a Slack channel and ask some mentoring questions and then just have an open invite for anybody that wants it. And so, that's the easiest way to get started. And, you know, once you've kind of done that, then you're ready to start putting together more of a formal program. 


Dan Gorgone: Really seems like more than anything. And I know we talked about this before the interview started, but communication and talking, talking to each other, talking to those leaders, it's so valuable. In addition to whatever programs you set up, whatever courses you assign to people, following up and making sure that you communicate with them and really talk to them and hear about their successes and their struggles, it's going to make a huge difference.


Rachel Schell: Absolutely. I mean, that is the whole idea of being a leader is that we're supporting the people that we are leading, right? Well, how do you know if you're supporting them if you don't talk to them and you don't communicate and hear what it is that they need because they'll tell you if you ask.


Dan Gorgone: Well, this has been great. Rachel, I want to thank you for sharing all this knowledge and thinking about a leadership plan. It makes perfect sense for all the many benefits that we've talked about in this episode. I want to direct people to I want to say if you want to learn more about Rachel, you can find her also at as well as on LinkedIn, look for Rachel Shell. Rachel, thank you so much.


Rachell Schell: Yeah, thank you, Dan. This was amazing. And if you have any questions about, you know, how to start a program like this, reach out to me. I would love to answer those questions. And Dan, thanks for having me here. I love GoSkills and what you do. And so, I hope that we have some listeners that are going to take this and start their own next-generation leadership program within their organization.


Dan Gorgone: Hey everyone, thanks for watching this episode of the L&D Explorers Podcast. If you enjoyed it, please give it a like and subscribe because more episodes are on the way. And no matter what your learning and development goals are, GoSkills can help. Click the link in the description to find out more. And thanks again for watching.

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Laurel Buckley

Laurel Buckley

Laurel is a writer at GoSkills. She also enjoys writing on travel and culture and is always studying a new language.