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In successful business, great leaders nurture talent from the inside

The most successful businesses don’t recruit leaders, they grow their own.

But how do you grow leaders?

The key — according to Morgan McCall — is a special breed of senior executive who actively seeks out and grooms new talent.

Not all talented executives do this, noted the USC professor of management and organization at the USC Marshall School of Business. But those who do are a treasure to their organizations. Studies show the single most important factor in sustained corporate excellence is the quality of leadership talent nurtured and developed internally. And executives promoted from within — including CEOs — have a much higher success rate than outsiders.

What makes a great talent developer

A sought-after expert on the development of executive talent, McCall co-edited a book on the topic scheduled for release in 2014. His own chapter, co-authored

Morgan McCall

Morgan McCall is an expert on leadership.

with Jeff McHenry of Seattle-based Rainier Leadership Solutions, identifies the actions that make certain senior executives great at developing new leadership talent:

  • Many give protégés the chance to grow.
  • Some relish being a role model.
  • Many connect protégés with other mentors and senior management.
  • Some offer career guidance.
  • Some correct a protégé’s flaws or build up specific skills.
  • Many set high standards and hold protégés accountable.

Great talent developers typically do one or two of these things but not all six, McCall and McHenry found.

The researchers interviewed 50 “great talent developers” as well as 50 talented managers they had groomed. All of them work at major companies such as Microsoft and Procter & Gamble. McCall and McHenry observed that great talent developers have a few things in common. Developing leaders has long been a priority for them, and they regard mentoring as paying forward a debt. They also don’t micromanage. Instead, they give protégés leeway to take risks and make mistakes, learning through trial and error.

How to encourage talent developers

The authors have tips for companies that want to identify great talent developers and support them. Here are a few:

  • Watch for telltale signs among junior executives. Many great talent developers in the study shared a passion for grooming leaders since their youth or discovered early on that doing so was essential to their own success.
  • You can’t incentivize executives to become great talent developers. A bigger bonus or a promotion isn’t what drives them. Instead, look for execs who have a passion for mentoring and enable them to act on this passion.
  • Don’t train all executives in a single step-by-step approach to grooming leaders. There are too many different styles. Instead, encourage each to find his or her inner “development voice.”
  • Don’t expect human resources programs and processes to yield talent developers. Such programs can make average managers better, but they won’t grow outstanding talent developers.

Morgan McCall is the author of respected leadership books such as High Flyers (1998). The forthcoming book, Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent (Jossey-Bass), is co-edited by Cindy McCauley, a senior fellow with the multinational Center for Creative Leadership. 

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In successful business, great leaders nurture talent from the inside

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