Preparing Future Leaders For The C-Suite


It’s not unusual, even at large companies, for employees who started on the lowest rung of the company ladder to eventually ascend into the C-Suite. Jim Ziemer started as a freight elevator operator for Harley Davidson in the late 60s but later became the President & CEO of the company. At Xerox, CEO Anne Mulcahy, got her foot in the door as a field sales representative, and her successor, Ursula Burns, was a mechanical engineering intern. And then there’s IBM’s Samuel Palmisano who was both a salesman and an executive assistant in his early days with the tech giant.

But they likely didn’t get to the executive level without the help of mentors or supervisors who also had a vested interest in their success. Companies benefit long-term when they prioritize the professional development of their employees, because it cultivates an organizational strength and sustainability that spans generations of leadership.

A janitor’s assistant can one day become the head of facilities or, in Weinberg’s case, the CEO. A financial analyst who shows leadership potential might be groomed for CFO or an IT intern could have a future as the department director or CIO. Regardless of where these potential leaders come from internally, they already have a deep understanding of the company and its culture. And over the course of their careers, they’ve earned the credibility and respect of their colleagues that makes them a natural choice for future leadership positions. They just need the right educational tools to get there.

Because no matter how knowledgeable or talented employees may be in their respective fields, when it comes to business management and leadership, individuals in the early stages of their careers will have gaps in knowledge and experience.

“Climbing up the company ladder means taking on new roles and expanded responsibilities, and adequately preparing such future leaders doesn’t happen overnight.”

Do they have experience managing, mentoring and motivating others towards a goal? Can they articulate the value of a new product or service in ways that others can understand and use – be they clients, customers or the internal communications and sales force teams?

Do they have enough of an understanding of manufacturing processes and supply chain to be able to recognize how costly or complicated it can be to bring a product to market? Have they thought about the impact the product could have on the company’s overall bottom line?

Do they know why a company’s stock price is important? Or heard their CEO on a quarterly call with company shareholders?

Climbing up the company ladder means taking on new roles and expanded responsibilities, and adequately preparing such future leaders doesn’t happen overnight. Again, it requires an investment in the right education tools. But what form of training or education will be the most productive given a company’s particular needs?

When it comes to training future executives, companies are typically looking at some form of executive education. The two options considered are usually executive MBA or executive education training programs. But which is the better course?

The answer to that question depends on a company’s needs and where and how deep the knowledge gaps are. When a small handful of people a company considers potential future leaders have already been identified, a full executive MBA program is usually more suitable. But when there is a larger group of employees who need training, enrolling them in a customized executive education program will likely be a more appropriate approach. Such programs are built to fill specific gaps in employee knowledge, so they can either focus in-depth on a few business topics or cover a broader range of issues for basic understanding. In all cases, executive education programs utilize world-class subject matter experts to develop the training.

But whatever type of program a company may choose, a good education partner will take a consulting approach to the relationship and ensure their potential clients find the best fit. They will begin by delving into the specific problems a company and its employees face, assessing the capabilities of the people involved, conducting a root cause analysis and making recommendations based on that information.

A good education partner will also engage their students with practical but rigorous subject material and design a course schedule that accommodates their existing professional lives. When students are in the classroom, they will be with others they consider their peers, drawn from their comfort zones and given practical, hands-on scenarios that allow them to quickly apply what they are learning. They will be taught by faculty who have real world experience and can apply their knowledge to tangible workplace situations.

Cultivating an organizational strength and sustainability that spans generations of company leadership begins on the lowest rung with companies recognizing and identifying future leaders. The next step is to make the educational investments that ensure their success, and that of the entire enterprise, as they climb the ladder to the C-Suite.