Improving Your Leadership Growth:

Realize a More Effective Path for Growing Company Leaders
By Dan Loichinger

Take note, this article is not only the first in a series, and is the first I’m writing directly to CEO’s and business owners. My intent is to share what you need to know about leadership and executive development so that you can improve the growth of leaders and the return on your company investments.

Leadership is a $366 billion industry according to Forbes, with an annual spend of $166 billion in the US alone!

What can you take away or learn from these numbers? First, companies believe it is important to build and grow effective leaders as part of their strategic planning. Second, executives invest different amounts in their leaders – from nothing at all to millions, often cutting planned investments when the economy turns south. Third, companies each have a different plan to developing their leaders. More importantly, companies have had difficulty creating lasting impact from their investment, frustrating you – owners and executive teams.

So, what is an owner or CEO to do with information like this? First and foremost, stop throwing money at your initiatives without understanding how leaders and organizations grow. This is the first of a series of blogs to share how to best develop your leaders, using research and insight from thought leaders.

Leadership Icon’s

Having been a student of leadership for over thirty years, a small number of experts have influenced my thinking. First and foremost is Warren Bennis, the grandfather of all thing’s leadership. Next, Jim Collins, who contributed his insight on leadership development through research and shared those insights through groundbreaking books: Good to Great, Build to Last, Great by Choice, and How the Mighty Fall.

Behind these two greats are many. Patrick Lencioni of the Table Group, known for his work on team development and author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. As an executive coach, Marshal Goldsmith is at the top, often recognized as the best leadership coach in the world. Daniel Pink has then emerged as the first non-traditional leadership expert as he integrated marketing, sales and social science with research. My favorite book of his is Drive, which provides insight on how to foster motivation in others.  Beyond these giants, there are many.

False Starts

One of the most common mistakes organizations make is to pick something popular and bring it into the company. Several problems make this an ineffective strategy. When was the last time you achieved planned growth by copying what a competitor was doing? Also, the person on their training staff is not the published expert who went through the rigors of research and developed the training. Three days of certification does not make an expert. Next, company’s often miss the importance of including the leader’s manager in the leadership initiative. In the end, managers of the leader are responsible for developing the performance of their direct reports, not HR or the trainer. Another problem, companies put everyone through the same program, regardless of their current experiences, skills and acceptance.

These are all a path to poor results and ROI!

Aspiring to Become A Great Leader

If managers don’t have the same level of experience and skill, there must be a better solution. First consider the number of management levels you have in your organization and how unique they are. Level 1 is a team leader or first line supervisor, and at the top, you as the CEO or business owner.

Why would you assume managers at all levels will benefit from the same approach to become the leader you want to develop? You shouldn’t. Intuitively we already know this, but you are probably looking to simplify the execution of the roll-out and save dollars in executing the plan.

Jim Collins first identified the concept of Level 5 Leadership in a 2001 Harvard Business Review article, and later in his book, Good to Great. Before starting his research, Collins said he was not including leadership as a factor when reviewing 1,435 companies, looking for the great companies that performed at the highest level for 10 years. In the end, the data spoke, and he discovered 11 great leaders and companies who rose to the top.

Let’s look at the characteristic of the levels of leaders identified by Collins.

Level 1: Highly Capable Individual

At this level, you make high quality contributions with your work. You possess useful levels of knowledge; and you have the talent and skills needed to do a good job.

Level 2: Contributing Team Member

At Level 2, you use your knowledge and skills to help your team succeed. You work effectively, productively and successfully with other people in your group.

Level 3: Competent Manager

Here, you’re able to organize a group effectively to achieve specific goals and objectives.

Level 4: Effective Leader

Level 4 is the category that most top leaders fall into. Here, you’re able to galvanize a department or organization to meet performance objectives and achieve a vision.

Level 5: Great Leader

At Level 5, you have the abilities needed for the other four levels, in addition to having the unique blend of humility and will required for true greatness.

Collins not only identified development needs for each level but characteristics that separated earlier levels from Level 5 leaders:  humility, focusing on success of the team and company over themselves, and being fearless when making decisions, among others.

Closing Thoughts

You need to have a better awareness of the unique leadership needs at each level and which improvements the company needs to realize a higher ROI on the money you are investing in leadership development.  To do that, owners and executives will need to be involved.

My next article in this series will fixes you should consider early on, identify the levels of maturity for company approaches to leadership development, and the specific role you need to embrace as the champion of your leadership development efforts.  Again, just as a leader cannot jump from Level 1 to Level 5, your company must take incremental steps to develop organizational leadership.

I’ve already exceeded the limit of words for my blog post. Comments, criticisms or more ideas? Send them my way or reply to this blog entry.


Dan Loichinger is a highly regarded executive coach and roundtable chair for Vistage and Financial Executives International (FEI).

I serve as an advocate for owners and executives of closely-held growth companies in Southern Wisconsin; those who include developing leaders as part of the company strategy.  I have the distinct pleasure of coming alongside executives who share my passion for human potential, organizational leadership and dynamic growth.

By choosing to strengthen your abilities as an executive leader that others choose to follow, you engage the workforce, drive performance gains, and build competitive advantage in the markets your company serves.

Would you like to reach out to discuss your company needs?  Send a note to Dan on the firm’s contact page:

Be well. Stay safe. Choose EFFECTIVE growth!