Developing Leaders: Benchmark the Nation‘s Best Practices

Adding value now or simply preparing for the upcoming downturn

by John Lankford

(Note: This article was originally published in the May, 2017 issue of CAM Magazine.)

Attention: All CEO’s who seek a competitive advantage

Imagine for a moment that you could clone your top three managers. Then imagine another competitor steals the two best performing ones—they simply had a better offer than your current workplace. Now that would really perturb you. Right?

Why can’t your recruiting system find you more great managers? The answer is that they are all already working! So if that is true, why is there a leadership drought? The answer is simple. Far too many organizations do not have a systematic, corporate approach to developing their current leaders. That is, far too many frontline supervisors, middle managers and yes, directors and vice-presidents, are not truly being developed–even if they were occasionally dispatched to a training class or a conference. So as a CEO who wants to get ahead, what can you do?

Three Choices

Well Mr./Ms. CEO, you have three choices to improve the number and the quality of managers at all levels:

1) Tolerate the current performance of your current leadership team; 2) Hire some new leadership talent; or 3) Launch an internal leadership development initiative.


Not yet convinced to start developing your own leaders immediately? Here are some financial facts/reasons you may find persuasive:

  1. An organization will never outperform its leadership team
  2. Your current leaders will directly impact your culture’s level of engagement
  3. Talented leaders create cultures of engagement, where engaged cultures have
  • 56% higher customer loyalty
  • 50% greater productivity
  • 33% more profit and
  • 44% higher retention

(From First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman)

Recruiting New Managers

Did you know that your current recruiting system and your current hiring and selection system are rarely accurate in selecting the right manager for the job? That’s because, at best, you have a 75% chance of selecting the right leader if you follow all six strategies:

  1. Conduct effective interviews
  2. Do correct background checks
  3. Use personality and behavioral assessments
  4. Confirm candidates’ mental capabilities
  5. Validate their career interest and motivators
  6. Have a disciplined process to conduct a job matching analysis

If you are wondering whether having the right leaders with the right leadership talent is critical to your company’s future, take it from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. He found that, after he five years’ research of how the best sustainable companies in America operate differently from everyone else, a few of those great companies started to falter. So he followed up with research to determine how these great companies begin to fail. His answer surprised even him. When asked to choose one marker above all others that serves as a warning, he replied, “it would be a declining proportion of key seats filled by the right leader—now and for the future.” Are your key seats filled with “A” and “B” performers? In 35 years of developing leaders and improving businesses performance, I’ve concluded the following on how current leaders rate: 10% A, 20% B, 60% C and 10% D and below in management. Clearly, when 70% rate satisfactory or below, this is a leadership issue that must be addressed to ensure the very survival of your company.

National Study

In a recent study 33,000 executives across many different industries, were asked, “What percentage of your leadership team executes your operational plan consistently?” The average was only 26.4%. When asked, “What percentage of your entire management team would you rehire as top performers,” 36% of executives reported less than half of their current team. And less than 40% of respondents said they have a system in place to strategically develop leadership talent.

So, what do the top 8% of CEO’s do different? They actively recruit, develop and retain talent using a top-notch leadership development structure: They invest in their leadership talent. Simply put, they invest in their company’s future, 22% attempt to offer some development and 70% of CEO’s simply do not bother.

Engagement Directly Impacts Profitability

Managers with high leadership talent are 200% more likely to be engaged, according to the Gallup 2015 National American Manager Study. What’s more, they also report that “One in ten leaders have the high talent to effectively manage others.” That is, they will engage associates and customers, retain top talent and build a high-performing culture. Does your company measure up?

Earlier this year, a Gallup study asked employees whether someone at work encourages their development. Three in ten strongly agreed. And by moving that ratio to six in ten employees, organizations could realize a:

  • 11% improvement in profitability
  • 28% reduction in absenteeism

It’s not surprising that this 2017 Gallup study showed the lack of development and career growth is the #1 reason employees quit.

Impact on the Customer and Your Wallet

The formula is simple: The quality of your leadership team directly impacts your culture and your employee engagement, which, in turn, directly impacts your customers. According to J.D. Powers research, “The top ten customer experience leaders generated cumulative total returns that were 41% better than the S & P 500 Index.”

Future Leaders

Our process for developing future leaders has an ROI that, at the completion of the one-year program, the cost to your organization is ZERO. Let me also remind you that the effectiveness of your current and future leadership talent not only will add value to your business when you exit or transition your company, it will also add profitability now.

Best Practices

How do you join the top 5% of companies to maximize your management team’s performance? Here’s how:

  1. Budget to build a leadership development system
  2. Assess every leader:
    • What is their baseline of skills and motivators?
    • Do they have potential NOW?
  3. Link all development activities to their performance scorecard
  4. Judge whether select managers are the right fit
  5. Edit and update all position descriptions for each leader
  6. Integrate development planning into your accountability system for leadership
  7. Design and launch a core leadership training curriculum required for all leaders at all levels
  8. Align all tools and systems to effectively provide leaders performance feedback

Examples: Conduct a culture survey, do a leadership 360 assessment, assess turnover statistics

  1. Consider launching a corporate university to brand your development activities
  2. Reassign select leaders into other business units for a developmental assignment
  3. Encouraged high-potential leaders to work with an executive coach or expert, which has been shown to significantly boost performance

Keep in mind that not only will a well-orchestrated leadership development initiative benefit your business at present, it will also increase its value when you get ready to transition or implement an exit plan.

Your Challenge for Adding Value Now

Unfortunately, too many CEO’s do not have the courage to make some tough decisions with select managers. The title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book says it all: What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There. Face the fact that currently you may not have the right leadership talent to take your company to the next level. It’s time to take action.

Ask yourself: “Where is my pressure to change coming from?” If you stop and think about it, the answer is LEADERSHIP. Make it a priority.


John Lankford

John Lankford was recognized as the 2007-2010 Associate Business Advisor of the Year in North America and brings proven executive experience and best practices to select companies every year. He served 18 years at the Executive Education Center at Ford Motor Company and is former Senior Director of Ascension Health Learning Institute. John has developed top leaders around the world in partnership with the University of Michigan Business School, the Center for Creative Leadership, Comcast University and GE University, to name a few. His business expertise has been tapped by prominent business media such as the New York Times, CBS and Dbusiness magazine and has been a syndicated business columnist. He is the author of The Answer is Leadership and Superstar for life…Career Transitions. John’s keynote speaking has landed him on the elite team that trains and certifies the new Executive Coaches joining the worldwide coaching community. John is also former Chief Executive Officer of the Innisbrook Leadership Institute. Lankford can be reached at [email protected] or call (888) 730-1950

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