Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Great Leadership Development Disrupter: Leadership Rotation


Guest post from Dee Ann Turner:

During my tenured career at one organization, I had the “best of the best” leadership development opportunities. I attended multiple executive education courses at the top business schools in the United States. In that organization, no expense was spared for leadership development. Their program includes on-one coaching from some of the best leadership minds and constant exposure to top leadership conferences and speakers. The organization ensures participation in multiple mentoring programs, assignment to non-profit boards and engaging in a multitude of on-the-job experiences with most senior leaders in the company. While all of these leadership development tactics has the potential to contribute to leadership growth, none of them compared to the one that transformed me as a leader.

For 30 years, I worked in the same function within the organization – Human Resources, later renamed Talent. On my 30th anniversary with the company, I left the familiar and launched a new function and team, Enterprise Social Responsibility, something I knew very little about at the time. With the new assignment came a blank sheet of paper to develop a strategy, a new team to lead whom I did not select, a new leader in an unfamiliar area of the company and a charge to “figure it out.” It was single most effective leadership development activity of my entire career. Since then, I have become and advocate for organizations to formally adopt leadership rotation programs as part of the leadership development plans.

Often, businesses and even non-profits, anticipate the pain of change to be greater than the value of the learning, so they avoid leadership rotation, especially if things are going well. However, an organization cannot afford for their leaders to become complacent and their learning to atrophy. While the stability that tenured leadership at the highest levels creates some comfort for collaboration, it can adversely impact innovation. Furthermore, leaders who stay in a position too long can shift into an “automatic” mode in both strategic thinking and in their people management.

Consider these benefits of a leadership rotation program:

1. The leader learns the valuable skill of building trust with a team. True leadership does not require a leader to have expertise in a specific subject matter. Instead, it requires them to lead people who do. Leaders who lack subject matter competency have to rely on the subject matter experts on their team to provide information and help make the best decisions. Trust breeds trust. When the leader trusts the team members, the team members often reciprocate. Trust is foundational to the success of any leader.

2. The leader learns critical persuasion and negotiation skills. It is far easier to advocate and negotiate about a very familiar function. It’s much more challenging to so in unfamiliar territory. Yet, it is in the discomfort of the unfamiliar that promotes growth for the leader.  Significant challenge to thinking and planning skills helps the leader’s competencies evolve.

3. The leader is more likely to develop an innovation mindset. If a leader stays in one function too long, it is more difficult to think about doing things differently. A leadership rotation can reignite some of the ideation that is natural to the leader. New ideation can move the organization forward to meet future challenges.

4. The leader strengthens people management skills. In most cases, an established leader is selecting the talent for the team. That same talent is choosing to work for the leader. However, when a leader is reassigned to a team, it requires new skills in leading people. The leader did not select the team members and they did not select the leader. This situation requires the leader to focus on communication skills, role definition, goal setting, holding others accountable and performance management. All leaders on any team should be applying these skills, but doing so in a new environment with new team members accelerates leadership development.

5. The leader develops collaboration skills. When assigned to a new role, especially if the functional competencies are unfamiliar, the leader will not only grow trust with the team members, but will also grow collaboration skills with peers. The new subject matter will require the leader to seek input, counsel and feedback from other leaders in the organization. It’s not business as usual. Interdependency develops within the leadership team when the leaders are challenged by a new role.


Within tenured organizations, leadership development can be especially challenging. There are too few new activities or programs that disrupt the leader’s thinking and perspective. Consider the significant role leadership rotation can play in developing the leaders in your organization.

Dee Ann Turner is leading the modern conversation about talent in business. The in-demand speaker, author, executive coach, and consultant was the first female officer at Chick-fil-A, for whom she served as Vice President of Talent and later, Vice President of Sustainability. There, Dee Ann helped shape Chick-fil-A’s historically remarkable culture for more than 30 years. In her bestselling first book, It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture, Dee Ann took readers behind the scenes of Chick-fil-A for explanations and action steps any business could adopt. Released on September 3, 2019, her follow-up BET ON TALENT: HOW TO CREATE A REMARKABLE CULTURE THAT WINS THE HEARTS OF CUSTOMERS dissects the strategies of numerous industry-leading organizations alongside explanations of Dee Ann’s original approaches to the most crucial decisions in business. Today, she leads her own organization, Dee Ann Turner, LLC, writing books, speaking to over 50 audiences per year and consulting and coaching leaders globally. Dee Ann lives with her husband just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

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