The Win-Win of Internal Leadership Development

Studies show that “organizations who rely on external candidates to fill management positions have almost double the turnover as organizations who rely on internal promotions.” If companies prioritize nurturing a group of entrepreneurial, self-motivated, purpose-driven employees from within it can increase ROI, employee retention rate, and save costly time bringing a new employee up to speed. Take for example Ford’s newly appointed CEO Jim Hackett, who was promoted internally from the autonomous car division.

But in order to promote these qualified employees internally, companies also need to prioritize a comprehensive internal leadership development program. The Harvard Business Review found that many of the most successful companies now offer leadership development and promotion opportunities internally:

Most forward-thinking companies are identifying and growing leaders in the midst of pursuing critical business objectives, as opposed to sending them off to far-flung educational programs and hoping they return with “big” insights about themselves and the world.

While leadership development is good for employee engagement and retention rates, it can also be a powerful indicator of a company’s health. From Amazon to Zappos, these companies are thriving by prioritizing employee leadership development and promoting new leaders from within.


Since every aspect of Disney changes on a regular basis, Disney decided to elevate common principles and practices that they could leverage more effectively. To do this, they focus on leaders (and human resources people) as they are the ones counted on to lead and drive change.

Walt Disney said, “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality”; therefore, developing leaders is a high priority at Disney. Simon T. Bailey, author of Releasing Leadership Brilliance and former sales director and new business development director for the world-renowned Disney Institute, echo’s Disney’s people-centric philosophy:

When I was first promoted into a leadership role at Walt Disney World Resort®, I participated in a mandatory class called Leadership Excellence. This experience was the critical foundation for understanding how to be a leader at the 7th most recognized brand in the world. My biggest takeaway from Disney is that a job is what you are paid to do but release your brilliance is what you are made to do. I was not hired to do a job, I was hired to create a moment. Leadership is all about managing the micro-moments in driving results and increasing high performance. Since that I time, I’ve come to realize that the real job of a leader is to invite people on a journey to discover themselves while they are following their leader.


SAS is a leader in business analytics software and services. They offer emerging leadership programs for professional training and development, career mentoring, and a career resource center. There is also a SAS Academics program in place for sales and technical development which provides both in-class and on-the-job training to ensure that recent grads are set up for success before moving into their full-time roles.

SAS prioritizes employee education and development programs because “knowledge-centered workers never want to be stagnant,” says Shannon Heath, senior communications specialist. “So SAS provides opportunities for growth to keep our employees challenged, motivated, and engaged.”


Amazon offers an intensive, month-long training and leadership program prior to hiring. Additionally, Amazon prepays 95% of tuition for employees at fulfillment centers to take courses in in-demand fields. A“Virtual Contact Center” also trains employees to work from home.

“We want our employees to be owners from day one,” says Teal Pennebaker, corporate communications manager, “so we train them to take ownership over products and services that impact millions of customers. This helps them pioneer a career at Amazon.”


Zappos may have one of the most thorough and developed leadership training programs—in fact, leadership development is the company’s number five core value. Zappos Core Value #5, Pursue Growth and Learning, encourages Zappos employees to “always be growing”, both personally and professionally. One way that Zappos helps them do this is through a department created specifically for employee development, ZapposU (formerly Zappos Insights).

Department-specific classes are taught by department experts and often supplement certain progression paths. Courses include the teaching of soft skills for leadership development, such as public speaking, as well as classes for departmental and cross-training development with Intro to Merchandising, Intro to Social Media, and finance. Additional “extra-curricular” courses include The Art of Storytelling, Pimp My PowerPoint, and The Science of Happiness.

Each of these companies prioritizes identifying and nurturing a group of entrepreneurial, self-motivated, purpose-driven employees because they have realized that guiding employees through customized leadership development programs and experiences within the company that will ensure their success in future internal positions–benefitting both employer and employee. It’s a win-win scenario.

The content writers at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau are Experts on the Experts. They hold doctoral, masters, and bachelors’ degrees in business, writing, literature, and education. Their business thought pieces are published regularly in leading business publications. Working in close association with the top business, entrepreneur, and motivational speakers, BigSpeak content writers are at the forefront of industry trends and research.