I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the CEO of a near-billion dollar services company last week who has created a leadership development program lauded by major consulting firms as “the best ever seen” at a major company.

He asked to remain anonymous but was more than happy to allow me to share 6 keys to the program’s success:

1. Commit, as a leader, to the development of emerging leaders

The first thing that really struck me was the way this gentleman committed to his role. He told me it took him five months to decide to accept the role instead of retiring, but once he took it he told the new company he would commit to lead for ten years.

Why? Because the leadership team at the company he would be leading was “old,” in his words, and he saw it as his role to “get the next generation up and running.”

Really think about that statement. He didn’t stay in his career ”to create a succession plan” for the old team; rather, he stayed to bring forth a new generation of leaders. I think this, alone, says so much about him and his philosophy.

2. Identify your future leaders and create a structure to focus on them

During the first three years in his role the CEO set up a Leadership Development Program for his future leaders that consulting firms have lauded for its leading edge approach. It is comprised of 34 executives, the top 1% of the company, and has an average age of around 40.

This group is given the task of addressing the most significant company challenges, along with ongoing access to the CEO. He meets with them regularly in one-on-one sessions, and they work as a team toward the success of the company.

When faced with difficult decisions they often meet as a group to review the two books that he says are “required reading” (coming in next Thursday’s blog post!) and to discern lessons from these books to apply to the decision at hand.

3. Be committed to the skillset you’re looking for and rewarding

One thing that was very unique about my conversation with the CEO was his focus on military service. This gentleman was in the Navy for more than 30 years and had a firm commitment to hiring military leaders. As he shared with me, military veterans are adept at leading through chaos and complexity, and at thinking non-linearly. He feels very strongly – as I suspect most of you do as well – that these are keys to successful leadership in today’s rapidly evolving environment.

The leader of the Leadership Development Program is a Green Beret, and the CEO has hired a number of Green Berets and Navy SEALs to be on his team. Of note, 42% of those in his program are military veterans. In addition to brilliantly handling chaos and complexity as mentioned above, I was told these executives are also committed to the flawless execution of their roles and excel at “blending in.”

What a novel concept when many of us are used to dealing with leaders who have a need to “stand out!”

4. Make peer evaluations a pillar of your Leadership Development Program

The 34 members of the Leadership Development Program complete peer evaluations on each other twice a year, and the CEO meets with each of them one-on-one to review the results. As he told me quite bluntly, “I won’t promote someone unless their peers tell me I should.”

He feels strongly that peer assessments are critical to creating a team that knows, cares for and trusts each other and that will be there for each other during “the hard stuff.” As a result of this caring environment, the Program members don’t want to let each other down, they certainly don’t want to let the CEO down, and he does not want to fail them.

5. Enable the team to create the rules

The concept of operations for running the program was developed entirely by those in the Program and is self-directed. This is another reason the CEO believes the Program has been so successful. After all, we are much more likely to buy-into and commit to something that we as individuals have a hand in developing.

6. Commit to, and be an example of, work-life balance

I asked the CEO about the workload that the leaders in his Leadership Development Program take on and he said they were, “severely overworked” noting that “those who survive will be in the C-Suite one day.”

So when I went on to ask him about any chance of these leaders having a work-life balance I was thrilled to hear him say that every time he meets with a member one-on-one they end the meeting by talking about the importance of having a work-life balance. To paraphrase his perspective,

“You can’t be excellent when you have a crappy home life.”

To wit, as we were speaking he was in his car with his wife on the way to his farm for the weekend, where he was planning to spend his time relaxing with his dogs, horses and some vino…

Coming next Thursday, pearls of wisdom from his philosophy on leadership and what he says is “required reading” for successful leaders.

You can find me on Twitter at @LisaPetrilli and on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/lisapetrilli. I look forward to seeing you there!

To hire me, eMail me at [email protected].

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Photo is “Blueprint Front and Back” by air0820.