From the Experts: Leadership Development and the Talent War


In order to win the Talent War, organizations need to not just retain employees, they need to retain leaders. Leadership development can give any organization the competitive edge they need to retain and acquire talent. Employees today no longer simply seek a salary, they want the company they work for to invest in them and to help them grow in their careers. In this article, our experts provide insights into why employees today are seeking leadership development as a primary workplace benefit while also exploring some of the consequences if those opportunities are not offered.


Answers From the Experts:


Lyn Turknett, Co-founder and Co-chair, TLG


Why do you think Leadership Development has moved up so high on the list of desired benefits for employees right now?

About 25 years ago we had an experience that showed the shocking power of development opportunities. A super-talented, high-powered salesperson at a large telecom was about to leave. Her boss was frantic. Amazingly, it wasn’t a retention bonus that kept her, or a promise of a promotion. She had told someone that she wanted to do our Executive Development Program. Her boss offered her the opportunity with a very senior TLG consultant, and she stayed for several additional years.

She got the opportunity for development as a person and as a leader, and since that time, we’ve had plenty of experiences and seen lots of data that show how important development is in retaining every employee. Leadership development is doubly important – it helps the organization retain good leaders, and it addresses another key reason employees leave – bad leadership.

We did a deep dive into retention research in 2000. That was a time, like the recent past, when it was blisteringly difficult to hire and critical to retain employees. In that year, we hired a research assistant who was, under the guidance of an industrial and organizational psychologist, fully devoted to gathering all the academic and private research we could find on the subject of what keeps employees at all levels around. Based on that, we developed the Turknett Retention Model. The areas of importance, Development, Leadership, and Work Design, would hold up today and are echoed in a recent article, Rethink Your Employee Value Proposition, by Mark Mortensen and Amy Edmundson in HBR.


To read Lyn’s full article on talent retention and the importance of leadership development, click here!


In what ways have you witnessed negative effects in organizations who fail to provide leadership development opportunities to their employees?

There are many consequences from having a lack of leadership development – the main one being that the best leaders – and the best employees – leave without leadership development. A big problem is that organizations often fail to provide basic training for new managers. And they often promote into management people who were the best individual contributors. Those employees are often highly dependable and good at getting tasks done, but leadership is about working through others, and helping others succeed. Leadership requires another set of skills entirely.

Also, without help, many new leaders think that being a boss means being bossy, and they start behaving in ways that drive their new employees nuts. A friend of ours wrote a book to help new leaders learn to lead. It’s entitled “Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders.” There’s also a well-reviewed book entitled “The First-Time Manager,” and Linda Hill has written extensively on the topic. At least give them a book!



Tim HuffTim Huff, VP of Leadership Development, TLG


Why do you think Leadership Development has moved up so high on the list of desired benefits for employees right now?

As the corporate workforce is becoming more enriched with ambitious, purpose-driven, and diverse professionals, the bar for success is getting higher. Employees are becoming more aware that to have a career that includes expanding roles with larger scopes of responsibility, they need to put significant effort into shaping their skills and experiences to meet what their organization values in leaders. As Marshal Goldsmith’s popular book suggests, “what got you here won’t get you there.” Gone are the days when simply showing up and doing a semi-decent job year after year will result in a promotion.

Today’s successful organizations learned years ago that seniority-based promotion systems are unreliable in selecting the best leaders. As these organizations trend towards more character-based and competency-based merit and promotion systems, employees are recognizing the need to align their growth path accordingly. To that end, leadership development and growth have never been more important.

As high potential recruitment candidates are looking for their best-fit organizations in which to invest their time and energy, successful HR leaders are crafting more and more creative benefit packages to attract and retain this key talent. Benefit packages that have a heavy leadership development component, including internal and external training opportunities, executive coaching, and mentorship are resonating strongly with candidates. Not only can high potential candidates see the direct link of these benefits to their success in the role in which they are being recruited, but they can see that the organization is willing to invest in their potential growth inside the company.

Organizations that have a strong leadership development focus are communicating to everyone inside and outside the company that they value leadership as a critical skill that will be a foundation for their current and future success. Employees and potential employees want to work for organizations like that!


In what ways have you witnessed negative effects in organizations who fail to provide leadership development opportunities to their employees?

I’ve been fortunate to work for several large for-profit companies whose leadership understand the value of multi-layered leadership development programs targeting all levels of leadership. From focusing on high potential individual contributors to mid-level managers to senior executives, I’ve been impressed with the way these companies have placed a high value on leadership growth and investing in their people. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen some organizations that don’t place a high priority on these kinds of investments. These organizations rarely see long term success and often fail to see even short-term success. In these organizations, I’ve seen a few things happen:

  • Decision making gravitates to the top. As growth experiences are denied junior leaders, their ability to evaluate and make decisions will eventually erode, and those who end up being trusted to make business decisions will shift to the more senior leaders. Two things will naturally result from this: junior leaders will become bored and discouraged, and senior leaders will get overwhelmed and burned out.
  • Promotion decisions are based on seniority and other ineffective criteria. With limited ability to see growth experience in junior leaders, senior leaders tend to evaluate potential by the amount of time spent in roles and other subjective criteria. When this happens, not only are high potential candidates overlooked, but senior leadership competencies degrade over time.
  • Risk taking and innovation are stifled. Because leaders in these organizations don’t get the ability to learn and practice making risk-based decisions and cultivate innovation with senior leadership mentors, these leaders will eventually be unprepared to make critical decisions that will help the organization survive and succeed.

In the end, organizations that don’t take a proactive stance on developing a comprehensive leadership development program are taking a gamble on the long-term viability of the organization.



Susan HitchcockSusan Hitchcock,  Founder and Host Emerita of Women in Leadership, TLG


Why do you think Leadership Development has moved up so high on the list of desired benefits for employees right now?

I think there are two reasons. First over the past decade or so, work has become more than just a job. Individuals, especially the younger generation, want to believe there is purpose to how they spend their time along with opportunities to grow – and that includes their leadership.

The second reason is that leadership is now a significant part of what students study and practice in their college experience, no matter their major. Take Agnes Scott College, the #1 Most Innovative College in the country for the past 5 years according the U.S. News & World Report. Their signature program – SUMMIT – includes a focus on leadership development and global learning. SUMMIT is attracting a record number of students every year – and – their parents are equally excited about the future prospects for their offspring. When students leave college, they are seeking a work environment where they can contribute and continue to develop their leadership and move up in the organization. Or, they will soon decide to move on.


In what ways have you witnessed negative effects in organizations who fail to provide leadership development opportunities to their employees?

I personally spend a lot of time mentoring young women who are entering the workforce after college. I encourage them as they go through the search and interview process and celebrate with them when they land their first job. Typically, I continue as an advisor as their career progresses. What I often hear as the reason they are dissatisfied, even when their boss is giving them positive feedback and reviews, is that they simply don’t like the culture overall or that there’s no investment in them, no leadership development focused on them, internally or externally. Some of the larger companies may say they support leadership development but it’s focused on the executive level, like executive coaching, but not development for first level or mid-level managers. That’s a mistake that can lead to the loss of high potential people.



Marty GuptaMarty Gupta, VP of Strategic Services, TLG


Why do you think Leadership Development has moved up so high on the list of desired benefits for employees right now?

Leadership development programs foster behavioral changes and career decisions employees may not otherwise make and speed up advancement. They benefit companies by improving recruitment and retention, succession planning, and leadership and decision-making qualities.

Leadership development programs typically have three components: conducting assessments, coaching, and teaching new cognitive skills and techniques. Assessments such as DiSC, 360, and Hogan help identify gaps and increase self-awareness. Coaching improves performance as well as self-confidence, relationships, communications skills, and work life balance. New thinking tools and leadership training help employees assess the business impact of global trends and build the skills and discipline to manage uncertainty and shape and change the organization.

The best leadership development programs are closely tied to company culture, values, and strategic goals. They utilize experiential learning and focus on real business needs.

Large companies have known this for some time. Examples include Disney Institute, Apple University, and Amazon’s Catapult program (India). Mid-sized and smaller companies have fewer managers and management layers, are tight on resources, and less likely to have formal programs, but stand to benefit. Turknett can design and deliver an effective leadership development program.


In what ways have you witnessed negative effects in organizations who fail to provide leadership development opportunities to their employees?

One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is to fail to train and develop its managers. During the last 30 years, Gallup has conducted research including tens of millions of employee and manager interviews across 160 countries. Their key findings: just 15% of the world’s workers are engaged at work and 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager. ‘The quality of managers and team leaders is the single biggest factor in your organization’s long-term success.’

The ADP Research Institute also surveys global workers on an annual basis. Their key findings: 16% of workers are Fully Engaged; a worker is 12x more likely to be fully engaged if they trust their team leader; and knowing what is expected and playing to one’s strengths are the foundations of trust.

Leadership development and employee engagement are inextricably linked.



Alex AuerbachAlex Auerbach, Ph.D., Senior Consultant, TLG


Why do you think Leadership Development has moved up so high on the list of desired benefits for employees right now?

The data suggests that the old saying is true – people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. As the dynamics of work continue to evolve in a post-Covid era, companies are wise to consider how they can train better leaders – it should increase employee retention and engagement, and should be empowering for those going through the training. Management is going through a transformation right now in response to all of the changes the pandemic brought about, and companies that are investing in leadership training are positioning themselves to be nimble when returning to work and managing a hybrid environment. Plus, leadership is something people care about improving!


In what ways have you witnessed negative effects in organizations who fail to provide leadership development opportunities to their employees?

The organizations I’ve seen who don’t invest in leadership training tend to experience the downsides in a few ways. First is a difficult company culture. Leadership can stave off many political issues, communication challenges, and aid employees and teams in navigating conflict. Without effective leadership, all of those bubble up to the surface.

The second consequence is that leadership tends to be more disengaged. Simply put, people value getting better. If work isn’t providing opportunities for improvement, people start to look elsewhere to fulfill their natural tendency toward growth.

Finally, I’d say that companies that don’t provide leadership development opportunities to their employees are failing to maximize their employees’ full potential. Most universities don’t offer any sort of leadership training, and to assume people can just emerge into management and be effective leaders ends up backfiring.


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