Show Your Muscles: Develop Your Leaders — ALL of Them






We’ve chatted already about a few of our best practices of leadership development. Today, let’s talk about your leader levels and your commitment to developing all of them –another equally critical component of your leadership development strategy. 

Recall that mature leadership development is based on an assessment of our six best practices of leadership development (and implementation of these 6 promote mature leadership development that drives business impact as defined in the Bersin & Associates Leadership Development Maturity Model®):

1. Maintain strong executive engagement;

2. Define tailored leadership competencies;

3. Align with business strategy;

4. Target all levels of leadership;

5. Integrate with talent management; and,

6. Apply a targeted solution.


Crisis may be an overused word, but it’s, indeed, a fair description of the state of leadership in today’s corporations across all parts of the globe. At all levels, companies are short on the quantity and quality of leaders they need.

CEOs are failing sooner leaving their companies scrambling –think Lucent, GM, P&G, Xerox.  Senior leaders, when targeted for development, are often found attending the next face-to-face program at the nearest business school leaving a gap in their day jobs not to mention a bigger gap, usually, in their development experience.  Mid-level leaders have been a neglected bunch for years except by a select few.  First line leaders and high-potentials have traditionally had more attention paid to them than most of their leaders and direct reports but even so, their development experiences aren’t always business-driven nor necessarily created as a process.

So what are you doing about it?

Today, recovering from the recession, global companies are realizing more and more that their leaders represent their companies’ abilities to compete and thrive.  As your top executives leave or retire, it is those future leaders who must carry on your company’s legacy.  As our 2011 high-impact leadership development research shows, the highest impact companies are investing in development of all their leaders…not just a select group of leaders or one particular level of leader.  The commitment to development at all levels reminds me of a brief quote that I recently read as documented by Frances Hesselbein, leader of the former Peter F. Drucker Foundation, and it goes something like this:

“My name is Troy. I work in the mail room, and I like to think of myself as the heart of the organization. Everything that comes into the organization comes through me. Everything that goes out of the organization goes through me. I am the heart of this organization!”

Troy’s words remind us of a staff member who understands what it means to think like a leader—be a leader—no matter where you find yourself in an organization. His words should shed light for you about the importance of every person and every position in your organization.

Who’s involved? And how to fix it?


So how do you go about defining leader levels and making choices about how best to develop them and execute at every leader level?

To start, the top companies recognize that an adaptable leadership pool is a competitive advantage, and focus their attention on bringing out the best in all of their managers and leaders. High impact companies acknowledge that in order to be most effective in driving your organization’s business goals, as your leaders move up levels, they must expand their focus in three critical capability areas: management, leadership and business strategy. Consider the quote below from Ram Charan in his book titled The Leadership Pipeline and refer to Bersin & Associates’ high-impact leadership development research for a picture of how the management and leadership skills are allocated in the responsibilites of each leader level.  All three skill sets — management, leadeship, and business strategy — are necessay, but the breakdown or percentage of time a leader spends in each category shift's throughout the leader's career as she or he is promoted into higher levels of leadership roles.

“There is little acknowledgment that different levels of leadership exist, and that people need to make skill and value transitions at each level. Relatively few organizations are thinking about the core competencies and experiences necessary to be successful at each level. Few of them are considering the leadership development needs of a first-time manager versus those of a functional manager."


Accordingly, the most impactful leadership development strategies include specific developmental activities geared toward each level of leadership. These development opportunities should represent different combinations of knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences which are required to effectively manage and lead oneself, individual contributors, other managers, a department,  and a business unit. This table summarizes some of the most critical progressive work of leaders by select levels and the following tables suggests some effective development experiences for each leader level:



First Line Leader

Mid-Level Leader

Senior Leader

Management Skills

·         Establish credibility with employees and leaders at all levels

·         Understand one’s own strengths and opportunities

·         Identify the personal development shifts that need to occur to transition from individual contributor to manager

·         Seek feedback from others on your own performance

·         Identify personal leadership gaps and strategies to overcome them

·         Build your own interpersonal skills/emotional intelligence

·         Act with creativity and innovation



·         Challenge your own assumptions to broaden your thinking

·         Embrace risk

·         Model appropriate management behaviors

Leadership Skills

·         Build employee engagement and commitment

·         Be accountable for developing your employees

·         Encourage learning

·         Manage performance problems

·         Communicate regularly

·         Provide focus and clarity that helps your employees and managers set priorities and make effective decisions

·         Grow your direct reports leveraging coaching regularly

·         Create high-value on-the-job learning experiences for your employees and managers

·         Seek opportunities to build a sense of ownership in your employees and managers

·         Demonstrate financial acumen

·         Demonstrate global acumen

·         Encourage innovative thinking in your direct reports


·         Mobilize talent across the enterprise to best meet the business needs of the organization

·         Assess, select, engage, develop future leaders and critical non-leader positions

·         Champion innovation

·         Act with global intelligence

·         Leverage change as an opportunity to win

Business Strategy Skills

·         Create clear lines of sight for direct reports linking their work to the business strategy of the enterprise

·         Understand the financial impacts on the enterprise of the spend decisions that you make relevant to your own budget

·         Influence business strategy with more senior leaders

·         Execute your business unit strategy by leveraging the talents of others across the organization

·         Balance short term goals with long term sustainability

·         Expect change and navigate it with agility

·         Demonstrate in-depth understanding of the complexities of your business model and the external business climate

·         Anticipate the future and recommend product and service solutions that have global appeal

·         Align strategy, structure, process and skills

·         Represent the organization to the Board and other critical senior level stakeholders



Leadership development experiences that are specifically tailored for each leader level require some purposeful design decisions.  These experiences will be most effective when the learning is oriented mostly towards exposure and experience and less towards formal classroom activities and takes on the following elements:


Effective Development Experiences for a:


First Line Leader

Mid-Level Leader

Senior Leader

·         Reveal role expectations

·         Offer opportunities for practice in real or simulated work environments

·         Provide role models and coaches

·         Embedded work tools and experiential learning opportunities

·         Provide stretch development opportunities shifting from a focus on skill-building to business and leadership challenges

·         Enable self-assessment opportunities so that leaders can tune in to their talents and opportunities

·         Link leadership development experiences with these leaders’ performance management, succession management and career development goals

·         Involve executive leadership as much as possible in leading the development opportunities

·         Offer coaching, coaching and more coaching

·         Ask these leaders to teach other leaders

·         Require them to participate in business-driven action learning

·         Provide tailored learning experiences that maximize challenge and qualified risk

·         Engage them in development opportunities that push them outside of their comfort zone

·         Place them in learning opportunities that take them beyond their current sphere of influence

·         Invite them to consider unorthodox ways of thinking

·         Engage them in external social networking opportunities

·         Partner them with an executive level coach


Focusing development opportunities on the right mix of management, leadership and business strategy and implementing business-driven tailored development experiences will ensure that your leaders – at all levels – are prepared to meet the unique challenges of their roles and the unique business goals of your organization. Leaders at each level represent a critical link to the health and strength of your leadership pipeline. Moreover, the business impact of committing to development of all leaders is shown in our research to be 5 to 12 times what the business result would be without effective leadership development for all leaders. Can you really afford to not invest in the development of all of your leaders?

In what ways does your leadership development strategy ensure that the particular needs of each of your leader levels are being met?  Please write to me at barb.arth@bersin .com and share your thoughts.

Next time—my thoughts on the fifth best practice of leadership development: integrate leadership development with other talent management processes for the greatest business impact.

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

One thought on “Show Your Muscles: Develop Your Leaders — ALL of Them

  1. This is very informative stuff! Thank you. I’d like to add to the knowledge by giving a helpful resource for managers and employees alike. It’s a book called The Dark Clouds at Work by Australian psychologist Dr. Darryl Cross. It’s got some pretty great advice on how to deal with people in the office from all levels. Especially those with problems.

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