4 top companies share their best leadership development practices

Leadership is a hugely important factor for any organization. Given how important it is to have great leadership in place, developing first-time or junior managers is of vital importance. Having the support and processes in place to take young managers and help them flourish, though often overlooked, makes all the difference!

We spoke to four successful organizations to hear more on their top leadership development programs and just how they take their junior leaders from young professionals to fantastic managers.


EYnnovation program aims to take young potential leaders and have them work in conjunction with young companies, helping develop their leadership approach alongside assisting the companies throughout their growth phase. The program is currently running in the Netherlands and Belgium, with plans to further expand. We spoke to Erik de Heer, Senior Tax Manager at EY, and learnt more about the company’s unique approach to developing their junior managers.

The initiative pushes young people out of their corporate environment and into the startup scene, where they must connect with other EY colleagues, build new relationships with their own clients, act as motivators to those around them and quickly grow and develop alongside the companies they’re working with. By the time people join the program, they’re already being trained into becoming specialists in their field. Whilst working with the startups, they develop soft skills such as building networks, establishing client relationships, motivating and engaging teams, sales training, running meetings, and other day to day leadership qualities.

The company really believes in future leaders, and that they need a different profile than those of today. Before people progress to becoming partners, EY wants them to possess a wide variety of skills, so their work with these companies is key. Of course, people’s in-depth knowledge of their field is essential, but the company recognizes a need for more. Additional skill sets, a broader business knowledge of their clients, knowing who within EY can offer specific services, and the ability to build bridges between different expertise levels and across networks are all important. The programme pushes young people out of their typical working surroundings and into the startup scene where they can both take motivation from and give it to the companies they’re paired with.

Thriving in a fast-paced, often creative environment where timing is of key importance and things change quickly means participants in the programme grow and build their own assignments, connections and forward thinking approach. So much so that EY doesn’t have to recruit people for the programme: they sign up. Future leaders are hungry for opportunity to have an impact on the world of business. And the startups are happy to work with EY for these exact reasons; EY’s future leaders are being given new opportunities to change the way things run, one startup at a time.


Upwork runs on the basis that the greatest developers, for example, don’t always necessarily make for the best leaders. They see that it’s all too common for those at the top of their game in their contributing roles in organizations to be pushed into becoming managers. They acknowledge that it’s not for everybody, and shouldn’t be seen as a natural progression.

They combat this happening by running a system with two tracks: there’s a track for individual contributors, where you can go as high as you want within the system in your field, and a management track, with a personal choice as of which to go for. For those people who are wanting to progress in their career, but aren’t interested in managing people, they are able to still develop and advance for the company. They encourage people within the company to move around and try things where wanted, giving potential leaders the opportunity to try their hand at things with no pressure to their career. Upwork’s HR team leads a training program to help young managers, strongly depending on peer coaching and mentoring from more senior level leaders. If, after these programs, people realize the track is not for them, as they find often happens without input from leaders, the company are happy to let them take the other track.

Upwork began formalizing this two track process around 3 years ago, and have found it’s been an impactful division, allowing people to test the waters, and have all the mentoring support they need to do so without pressure. They lets their potential young managers flourish, without the pressure of having it be the be and end all of their career, with all the support and successful programs in place for those that are born leaders and want to run with the program.

Many associates spend their entire working life in a single business function. They lack understanding of the purpose of other business functions and how all of the pieces fit together.
Scott Conklin Paycor
Scott Conklin
VP of human resources


In order to give leaders, particularly young or first-time leaders this bigger picture, and some knowledge and experience outside of what their current position offers, the company partnered with Miami University's Farmer School of Business on a leadership development program to help their young leaders. The program integrates content from the school's business program with additional content surrounding company specific needs and subject matter. The company's senior leaders partner with faculty from the university both to deliver the content for learning and facilitate discussions around Paycor-specific training, with insights into company strategy and practices. The leaders complete the program with a Paycor business challenge: in teams they are presented with an actual company challenge and have to problem solve and present their results to the Paycor committee. The program aims to both give participants a way to learn all the information needed to help them in their leadership careers, a change to apply their learnings to real-life strategic issues facing the company, and also expose them to the organization's' senior leaders and give them new opportunities to collaborate.

The most effective programs in helping to develop leaders have a strong people bias. Knowing how to bring out the best in people and focusing on results is critical."
Phil Geldart
Phil Geldart
CEO at Eagle’s Flight

Eagle’s flight

When it comes to developing junior or first-time managers, Geldart says, their motivations are different to previous generations. It is of course, key, to focus on the needs and previous experience of each individual when devising training programs, but in general with young potential leaders, their focus tends to be on learning the “why” behind what they’re being taught, rather than specific tactics with lesser context. “This makes leadership training more difficult, and at the same time, more effective”, he shares. It’s important to explain the rationales behind things rather than simply laying them down, but once it’s understood why things are valid and worth the time, it’s way more applicable in wider settings and therefore a more useful and powerful training method. Young leaders’ need to learning by doing, want to be active and don’t just want to be told what to do with no practical application. Their goal is to not only see their accountabilities met, but also see their people grow, develop, and feel confident enough to bring ideas forward and show initiative. Their training needs to equip them to lead in this way.

Geldart shares how the development programs they’ve run over the years have changed with the times. Gone are the days, he maintains, of simply lecturing about tactics when it comes to making great leaders. Instead, there’s a focus on principle based training: people must understand the principles then be coached to apply them in their own specific work environments. Geldart sees fit to then train leaders by making use of the tools available to them, always ensuring room for self-discovery and actual understanding of on-the-job practices. He has found throughout his career that principle based training programs with practical application allows for much more understanding and ultimately, more use in the long term when it comes to applying learnings. Geldart maintains that by establishing this in the programs they run, things run way more successfully.

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