Top Companies for Leaders — What Makes Them Tops?


The list that many of us have been waiting for, aspired to, disappointed that we are not on, or for a select few are enjoying the distinction of being on has been published.  Last month, for the first time in two years, Fortune released “the top 25 companies for leaders." Drum roll, please…….:

1.       IBM

2.       General Mills

3.       Procter & Gamble

4.       Aditya Birla

5.       Colgate-Palmolive

6.       Hindustan Unilever

7.       Icici Bank

8.       McDonald’s

9.       Whirlpool

10.   Pepsico

11.   GE

12.   BBVA

13.   Natura

14.   Deere & Co.

15.   3M

16.   Eli Lilly

17.   McKinsey

18.   L’oreal

19.   Unilever

20.   Siemens AG

21.   Intel

22.   China Vanke

23.   Wipro

24.   Bharti Airte

25.   Novartis

So what makes these companies (by the way, six of them are Bersin members –GE, McDonald's, General Mills, McKinsey, Intel, and Wipro) so unlike than the rest? One simple differentiator: their single highest-priority talent process is leadership development. These twenty-five develop leaders from within and promote them when critical next-level leader roles open.

And, a second key learning from reviewing the development approaches of the winners is this: their leadership development solutions align with our best practices of high-impact leadership development solutions. These solutions include experiential opportunities, coaching and other feedback vehicles before formal traditional classroom sessions. Like at IBM, executives at Hindustan Unilever spend time living in locations abroad to best understand the needs of their global customers.  Leaders at McKinsey are partnered up with senior partners to gain direct exposure to the executives. Leaders at China Yanke are expected to cultivate networking relationships with government officials.  Deere executives receive regular and on-going coaching from their Board members. Coaching is also prevalent at McKinsey where  Managing Director Dominic Barton leads by example. According to the company, Barton spends 60% of his time mentoring and developing his staff.

Within the organizations of all the winners, leadership development drives their culture and shapes their brand. Winners’ executives hold leaders accountable for development and for creating high-performance work teams. They expect their leaders to be nimble and agile, demonstrate global business acumen and drive business results. Skilling leaders up to model such behaviors and demonstrate such savvy is no easy feat, but the rewards are well worth it.  Deere expects to double its net income by 2018 and is counting on its leadership development to be the strategic lever.  At seven McDonald’s locations around the world, each bring in about $2.5 million in sales a year on average. McDonald’s executives attribute that financial success to the managers who have been through Hamburger U’s leadership development. The development simply equips them to run more profitable restaurants.

When examining the development approaches of these winners, most, if not all of them, use the "70-20-10" model for developing its leaders. In other words, 70% of learning happens on the job and is experiential, 20% through mentoring, coaching and other feedback venues, and only 10% through formal training.  Our high-impact leadership development research reflects this same design approach.  And, we see others latching on to it very quickly.  While the model is not new, the commitment to it is.

Whilst it might be true that much of the public sector is playing catch-up to the 70-20-10 development practices of these top 25, that is not true in all agency cases. Consider, the IRS – who, by the way, earned a winning spot in our 2012 Learning Leaders Program for best-in-class leadership development strategy. Just a few days ago we interviewed their Director of Leadership Development. He described to us their “Geographic Leadership Communities.”  The purpose of these communities is to connect their high-potential leaders with local senior leaders.  These communities are designed to facilitate leader-to-leader networking, provide real-time feedback to high-potential leaders, identify leader talent in various IRS groups, and encourage leaders to foster community building across the business functions. The notion of the communities germinated from the IRS Workforce of Tomorrow Task Team. The Task Team was focused on how to grow future leaders to drive IRS business results.  IRS conducted pilots this year with great success. Next year, they are launching the communities ‘big bang’ style. 

I suspect that success stories like those of IBM, Deere, McDonald’s, the IRS exist in many other organizations as well.  I’d love to hear your story. Who knows, you may just find yourself on the “Top 25” list next time it comes around. Do you want to share with us?

Please write to me at

Until next time….

Andrea Derler

Andrea Derler, Ph.D., joined Bersin by Deloitte in March 2015 and leads the Leadership & Succession Management research practice. She brings international work experience as leadership trainer & coach and a solid academic background to this role. Prior to joining Bersin, she collaborated closely with organizations in the USA as well as Europe in order to pursue practice-oriented leadership research. Andrea studied international management, organizational culture and integral leadership and facilitated leadership development efforts in a variety of industries. She holds a doctoral degree in Economics (Leadership & Organization), and a Master’s degree in Philosophy. Her work about leaders’ Ideal Employee recently received wide-spread media attention in Europe and was published in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal

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