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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.