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Internal Leadership Development

Grow your own leaders


When it comes to filling your company’s ranks with talented managers and executives, there are clear benefits to growing your own.

A study by Indiana University and A.T. Kearney consultants concluded that companies which exclusively promoted CEOs from within consistently outperformed others across seven key financial metrics, including revenue and earnings growth, return on assets and stock-price appreciation.

Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals, Chairman of WSFS Financial Corporation in Delaware, has frequently witnessed the benefits of homegrown leaders. He attributes those benefits to leaders’ profound ability to harness the power of a company’s culture.

“Most successful organizations which have a continual legacy of strong performance, have a very strong culture. Perpetuating the right culture is the most important thing you have to do to succeed,” Schoenhals said. “The best way to do that is to develop your leaders from within – leaders who know your culture, are part of it and are going to fight like crazy to preserve it.”

To foster great leaders internally, a company must make leadership development efforts integral to company operations. Start by evaluating the management qualities and potential of all applicants, even for junior positions. Create a personal development plan for each new hire and deliver ample feedback. Then try these measures to boost your internal leadership development.

Create “Stretch Assignments”

Periodically enable employees to step outside their normal roles and tackle unfamiliar challenges. Stretch assignments can include temporary assignments to different departments, participation in a ‘manager for a day’ exercise or participation in special projects. Such assignments will challenge employees to develop new professional and leadership skills, and enhance their performance overall.

Teach executive skills

Help your increasingly specialized employees learn the broader generalist skills that effective leaders need. In a report titled “The five things I wish I had known when I was promoted to the C-Suite,” executive search firm Egon Zehnder shows how even robust development programs fail to equip many new executives with the essential, soft skills of leadership. Those include the ability to empower employees, create strong teams, collaborate effectively, motivate individuals, relate to customers, and both give and solicit productive feedback.

Implementing in-house leadership development measures could help your company tap stronger leaders, experience smoother successions and generate improved performance. It will also produce short-term benefits, including improved morale, better employee performance, greater knowledge transfer and possibly some creative solutions to your business challenges.

Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, May 2015