The CEOs Role in Leadership Development

When EDA conducted its first study of trends research in 1983, executive and leadership development was still a fledging discipline. At that time, the idea that executive development should directly reflect and support a firm's strategic objectives or drive performance was, to many CEOs, a revelation. Today, the notion of purposefully developing the company's executive talent pool and cultivating the future leadership cadre is almost universally embraced. Most CEOs accept the logic of tying their executive and leadership development programs to the long-term strategic goals of their company.  Yet, even though they get it in theory, many CEOs do not embrace this concept in practice.  How do we know?  Well, just look at where leadership development as a function typically falls in an organization.  

 An organization's most sustainable source of competitive advantage is its leadership talent, yet leadership development typically falls layers down in the organization, often buried under a Human Resources Vice President who often does not have the ear of the CEO and who may not be trained in the leadership side of the human capital space.  Human resource professionals and leadership development professionals are fundamentally different in their focus and in their training.   

  • Human Resource professionals’ jobs lean toward the legal side of the house in that they cover recruiting, hiring, performance evaluations, reorganizations, diversity issues, grievances, benefits, salary, employee discipline, records for federal and state requirements, layoffs and firings.  
  • Executive and Leadership Development professionals are corporate educators. They cover management and leadership development.  They conduct needs assessments for the entire organization as well as its divisions and business units to evaluate current skills against business objectives, and then develops programs to close gaps.  They ensure smooth delivery, continuous improvements of each program, while maintaining consistency of key learnings. They need to work closely with senior management team across the enterprise to identify and anticipate learning needs of the front-line to senior level leaders and ensure that the right people are ready when the company needs talent for key roles.  They must define prioritized annual objectives and provide leaders with the coaching and guidance needed to ensure success and enable change management efforts and organizational planning at the company level to position our company's sustainable future growth. 

With shareholders demanding higher returns and knowing that an organization’s executive and leadership talent are its greatest and most sustainable source of competitive advantage, why is it that executives still cite the lack of bench strength in their future leadership group as the primary concern on their ability to delivery key results.  Why is it that most leaders who fail do so because of leadership issues not business skill issues?  And… here’s the thing.  Our Trends research shows that this has been the same story for over a decade.  So why haven’t we conquered these problems?   Is it that we don’t know how or are we unwilling to change in order to rectify the situation? 

I believe that a case can be made for separating HR and Leadership development completely with HR reporting to the General Council due to the litigious nature of the role and Leadership Development reporting to the CEO.  Why?  Because it’s the CEO who owns leadership.  He/She is the chief leader.  He/She is the one who ultimately owns ensuring that the company has a clear sense of purpose and vision, alignment of the organization and delivery of results.  The people must know where the organization is going and be trained and prepared to get there.   

If the CEO owns leadership development, then the person over that function is near the CEO.  He/she has a seat at the senior leadership table and can hear the daily struggles of the business and then recommend the best methods to educate and train the workforce to tackle the business barriers and achieve the desired goals.  He/She can learn of new lines of business, new geographies and products in the strategy and ensure that the talent pool is packed full of prepared leaders to run the new critical positions.  The CEO, then, becomes the champion for leadership development by utilizing the function to achieve real and practical business results.  The days of floating corporate education with no real tie to the performance of the organization are over.  Its time to do something different and the change I propose starts with the CEO.   



Bonnie Hagemann

CEO of  EDA, Inc.


About EDA, Inc. 

EDA, Inc., a world-class human capital firm with powerful Employee Experience platform, providing SaaS and AI solutions, premium executive development services and leading industry research. EDA’s services include.

  • C-Suite & Executive Coaching,
  • Custom Executive Development,
  • Succession Planning,
  • Assessment & Selection Services, and
  • High-Potential Development.

It is our pleasure and passion to help organizational leaders create conducive workforce environments so that they can attract, retain, and develop top talent and advance their mission and strategy.


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