An Answer for Scaling Leadership Is Within Sight

I was recently contacted by executive coach, interim leader, and outstanding change agent, Michelle DeAngelis, about speaking to the leadership team of one of her clients on the topic of “scaling leadership.” This sent me on a search to understand why this was an important topic for the management of a global company with 6,000+ employees and a market value of over 45 billion dollars.

I discovered that many successful organizations are finding the inability to scale their leadership ranks a major gating factor to growth. They are talent-starved, especially when it comes to attracting, onboarding, and developing leaders. At best, it’s an expensive and time-consuming process. At worst, the truth of the retention rate can require repeating the process over-and-over after months or years of less-than-stellar contributions from the new talent.

There’s a saying that goes something like this, “Don’t step over dollars to pick up dimes.” As I thought about this challenge of scaling leadership and its resolution, I asked myself, “Could it be that the search, far-and-wide, for new talent is overlooking the potential of existing team members stepping up to the challenge and opportunity of leading?” You already found them, hired and onboarded them, trained them, and obviously retained them. You may have even invested in their development in their current role. They presumably know the mission, purpose, values, strengths, and weaknesses of the organization. They have a track record you have witnessed and can evaluate.

The “good ones” have many options today and are not afraid to jump ship to organizations where they might feel more appreciated. Over 47 million citizens (just in the US) voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021. More than 25 percent of the respondents of a large McKinsey & Company survey cited “uncaring/uninspiring leaders,” “unreliable/unsupportive colleagues,” “lack of workplace flexibility,” and “lack of support for health and well-being,” as reasons for quitting their jobs. The human factor. []

The number one reason, though, was “lack of career development and advancement,” which was cited by more than 40 percent of respondents. How bad and how long does that “lack” have to go on to the point where jumping ship is seen as the best option?

Importantly, this McKinsey survey encompassed 13,382 respondents from six countries. If 40+ percent of the respondents (about 5,353 people) left their jobs in part due to the lack of career development and advancement, it isn’t an outlier. Could some portion of the 47 million who jumped ship last year been prospects for stepping up to leadership where they were? If so, why weren’t they noticed? And who wasn’t watching?

By the way, if the talent pool was 40 percent of those leaving their jobs in 2021, that was 18,800,000 employees, some of whom might have been capable of leading a team where they previously worked. And that was in a single year in a single country.

It seems strange to say, but the difference between having more leaders in your organization, and spending years on costly and performance-debilitating hiring mistakes could simply be noticing and actually “seeing” the talent that is already present. And, also strangely, that “noticing” serves the development, growth, prosperity, and advancement of the organization, its senior leadership, and all stakeholders. Obviously, a shift in leadership perspective is required, a complex subject beyond the scope of this brief note. But here is one idea.

I believe that leaders with traditional skills who embrace the “humaneness” that is the foundation of successful coaching, can create powerful transformations for individuals, teams, and themselves. A leader with skill at coaching a whole person—acknowledging their body, mind, and spirit—will be able to attract, develop, retain, and optimize the talent of their people. More than that—this greater mindfulness—may improve a leader’s vision. Seeing with clarity, potential leaders among those already present within the organization.

By failing to recognize and appreciate the distinctive human side of colleagues and team members, leaders, in some (perhaps many) cases, are missing opportunities to leverage the powers latent in humanness: compassion, empathy, creativity, and service, to name a few. These factors, when cultivated and more importantly, effectively modeled and communicated by the leader, give rise to teamwork and more efficient and creative problem-solving. And, developing leadership talent that is already known and available. The investment in their development is a bargain compared with a “Hail Mary” approach to finding and successfully keeping new, outside, talent.

It so happens that creating an organization with many leaders at many levels, promotes organizational adaptability and resilience in times of rapid change and disruption. This has been the state of our environment each and every day of the 21st century so far, and we are already more than 21 percent through it. ~Will Keiper, co-author (with Steve Chandler) of The Leader and The Coach—The Art of Humanity in Leadership

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Credit: This is a blog post by Will Keiper at

The Leader & The Coach by Steve Chandler & Will Keiper
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