Leadership Development Case Study by Matthew Richter

(Note: We did this program with our partners at LSA Global)


An industry leader in the real estate investment market decided to capitalize on this slow economic period by developing their existing and future leaders while simultaneously improving their business operations.


The goal of the program was to develop the next generation of leaders that would significantly grow the company and maintain the philosophy and culture created by the company founders. Specific objectives were to:

  • Identify opportunities that would impact the company's bottom line
  • Execute strategies that would create a competitive advantage
  • Initiate and lead change within the organization


The Leadership Development Program design needed to address the following challenges:

  • Utilize the collective company and industry knowledge of senior executives in different functional roles
  • Provide a learning experience that was relevant to participants' day jobs and future roles within the company
  • Remain at all times practical and applicable to the overall corporate strategy so that the senior executives saw results from the team initiatives
  • Generate outcomes that contributed to the cost of the program


An action learning format provided the foundation of the program. Participants worked in cross-functional teams, with a goal of providing a significant contribution to the company's bottom line or competitive position. Teams progressed through the phases of a major project while they received just-in-time training, coaching, mentoring, and the tools necessary to succeed. The teams of three went through the following steps over the course of six months:

  • They identified opportunities to either drive new revenue or decrease operational costs
  • They selected one high potential opportunity and created a business case to present to senior executives for implementation approval
  • They led the project implementation, engaging and influencing most areas of the company
  • They measured the results of their efforts

During the course of the project, each team was supported by an executive mentor who provided significant knowledge to the team about their project focus, company politics, and how to keep on track. Each team also had an NEO sponsor—the CEO, the President, or the Chief Risk Officer, each meeting with their assigned team on a regular basis to provide strategic guidance.


The Leadership Development Program produced significant results across three dimensions: business results, leadership maturation, and organizational learning.

Business Results

  • Roughly $3 million realized in 2008 bottom line impact
  • At least $10 million more expected in 2009
  • Development of new critical processes
  • Validation of several key current processes
  • Identification of new high potential market opportunities
  • The identification of several very high potential new leaders in the company

Leadership Maturation

The most profound and meaningful learning for the participants were their own reflections based on their experiences at each stage of their project. While they learned about theories, methods and tools that could help them, their biggest “A-ha's” came from breakthroughs in their own thinking, or from the consequences of their actions, as evidenced by the comments below.

Participants identified the following key areas of learning:

  • “Seeing opportunities”; not overlooking ideas because they seemed too simple.
  • Presenting to senior management—being brief and knowing when to stop “selling”.
  • Pre-selling your ideas before ‘official’ meetings within the organization.
  • Doing enough due-diligence to trust the data you receive.
  • Optimizing an internal process can generate revenue as much as cutting costs.
  • Big picture ideas are great, but smaller, more manageable projects often have greater ‘yield’.
  • Acting quickly to vet great ideas.
  • Not relying on outside partners to determine your revenue.
  • Asking lots of questions in the beginning and organizing accordingly.
  • Being flexible with your ideas/visions and being adaptable to a fast changing environment.
  • Making sure everyone has a clear understanding and agreement on the objectives/deliverables etc.
  • Not being afraid to step up and lead, particularly in the absence of leadership. Being confident.
  • Knowing that it is incredibly valuable to work interdepartmentally.
  • It is not enough just to have good ideas. You need to be able to convince other people that your ideas are good in order for your good ideas to gain traction.
  • Absent accountability, opportunities (or $$) can fall through the cracks.

Organizational Learning

The breadth of the opportunities addressed in this program required involvement from nearly the entire company, and expanded the cross-functional learning and discovery process to all employees who were involved. As participants learned what they could achieve by acting as leaders, so did all who were tangentially involved in the projects.

Action Learning Results

Finally, the following participant quotes attest to the success of the action learning format in developing new leaders:

  • “Good microcosm of the issues and opportunities that happen every day at our company.”
  • “The team learned how to manage working in an unstructured environment, dealing with time pressures, and working with different personalities.”
  • “Typically skills development is done through formal training in a seminar with a lecture, simulations, and/or role playing for a few hours, making it easy to go back to your day-to-day routine and old habits. The leadership project was an opportunity to develop long lasting skills over a six month period working on a real world problem with actual financial benefits to the company.”
  • “This crash-course in navigating the roads to successful leadership at our company provided hands-on experience that will serve me well in my career.”