Leadership development is considered critical for the success of organizations in a competitive scenario. Realizing this, organizations have started investing in developing leaders from inside, by identifying people who show the promise and prove their mettle. In the era of constant changes brought by globalization and increased opportunities, it becomes imperative to recognize potential leadership talent within organizations and design HR systems which will provide the identified with required learning and accelerated career growth. Such initiatives serve to motivate the performers as well as create a leadership pipeline. This paper explores various initiatives taken by organizations through Indian and International case examples of fast track leadership programs. Published sources of information and corporate campus presentations are used as data sources. The methods and tools which are adopted by organizations are identified and the paper suggests a framework for fast track leadership development. Research based understanding of the various tools used for leadership development is also discussed. The paper also examines various issues regarding fast track leadership programs.


The debate whether leaders are born or whether they are created by contextual factors has contributed to significant amount of theory building. However, what is more important in the organizational context is to find employees who are potential leaders and nurture them early enough. With the concept of life long employment vanishing and employees constantly trying to find greener pastures for better career options , organizations cannot remain aloof from attracting the fast trackers and managing them through well planned organizational interventions. On the other hand organizations have to consider employee career planning and management as part of their HR strategy. The focus here is to retain

1 Presented at the conference on‘ Leadership Development in the Globalized Economy: HRD Initiatives and Interventions in Organizations’, organized by Academy of HRD, November 26-28, 2004 and published as Krishnan, Sandeep K., & Varkkey, Biju. 2004. Nurturing Fast Track Leaders, In Developing Leadership for the global era: HRD perspectives and initiatives: 181-191, Macmillan India Ltd: New Delhi.

 The authors can be reached at: [email protected] & [email protected]

and nurture valuable employees while regularly moving out the misfits. For example in the case of 3M a fast tracker/high potential is “an employee who consistently contributes at a significantly high level. Confidence exists that the individual will move to the next job band within three years” and in case of Westcoast Energy she/he is the one who “demonstrates a pattern of success in new and tough situations, leaves tracks in the sand, takes personal risks and makes professional sacrifices”(Cope and Fischer, 1998). In this context, the paper uses the word ‘fast – track’ leaders to those individuals in organizations who are potential future leaders of the organization. They are achieving more than what is expected from their present age and experience. Fast track program is identified with the set of interventions and practices which enable organizations to identify fast trackers and help them achieve leadership positions in organizations in a relatively shorter time period. With globalisation setting in and the environment of operation becoming more competitive, many Indian organizations have set up formal programs for leadership development. This may range from a wide array of activities within companies like the use of 360 degree performance review for assessing leadership potential, assessment centres, specially designed accelerated development programs, training and coaching, special assignment and career designs. Corporate universities (leadership institutes like that of Crontonville of GE) are also becoming a much observed phenomenon in the Indian context which toes the line of organizations like GE. The Infosys Leadership Institute is an example in this context. Age and experience as critical factors rather than performance to qualify for leadership positions is also disappearing at least from the private sector organizations. In this context HR has a major role to play in streamlining the HR processes towards selecting leadership potential and managing them.

Practices for fostering young leaders: Indian Case Examples

A number of organizations have implemented fast track leadership interventions. Some of the examples help to identify the critical factors which are similar throughout.


A classic example of leadership development program in the Indian context is the Tata Administrative Services (TAS). The programme, which was conceived and implemented more than 40 years back, aims at growing leaders who can lead the various group concerns in the future. It selects and trains high achieving young postgraduates from leading business schools of the country. The candidates are given extensive cross functional exposure across various group enterprises. TAS recruits are given the best possible support from the organization, and have steeper career growth opportunities. The first year of TAS is dedicated towards group orientation and learning, termed as “GOAL”. Here the recruits get a two weeks intensive orientation about the group. They get opportunities to interact with the senior management of the group. Training provides exposure of various initiatives and future plans of TATA. GOAL also provides learning through tours of various facilities of the group. Cross-functional training and challenging projects are given. Exceptional candidates are recognized for merit. After completing the GOAL, the recruit is given a posting which matches his choice and organizational requirements. The TAS gives the recruits to have high degree of exposure across various functions, group companies and responsibilities. Management expects the TAS recruit to be in a senior management position within 10 to 12 years, where he will be having a strategic role and considerable external contacts.

Infosys Technologies Ltd

Infosys Technologies Ltd. (Infosys) is a global player in the IT services industry. With advancement of IT sector in the country, major firms in the country, like Infosys and Wipro have given clear impetus for leadership talent development. Infosys has set up the Infosys Leadership Institute (ILI) for identifying high performers in the organization and giving them opportunity in improving the performance of the organization as potential leaders of the organization. Candidates for the leadership program are chosen based on past performance and assessment of leadership potential. Duration of the course is for 3 years. ILI is conceptualised based on best practices done by organizations worldwide like GE. ILI interventions are based on a “Nine Pillar” leadership development model. Nine interventions comprise 360 degree feedback, developmental assignments, Infosys culture workshops, developmental relationships, leadership skill training, feedback intensive programs, system process learning, community empathy and action learning. 360 degree feedbacks which are aligned towards leadership competencies help to evaluate employee’s critical leadership competencies. This helps in assessing existing competences and making the personal developmental plan. Developmental assignments help in gaining cross functional experience and developing practical leadership skills. Culture workshops make sure that the basis of the culture and values of the organization is well ingrained in the newly developing leaders. Developmental relationships are basically mentoring programs, which help in associating a mentor relationship with a leader of the organization. This helps in gaining considerable knowledge and experience sharing. Leadership skills training focuses on imparting organizationally relevant leadership skills by veteran leaders of the organization. This also ensures top management commitment for developing future leaders. Feedback intensive programs are behavioral interventions based on informal and formal feedbacks from the experiences that the candidate has from the individuals with whom he/she interfaces. System process learning aims at giving a holistic picture about the organization as one system and sensitizes about improving the system as a whole. Action learning provides opportunities for hands on experience in improving relevant and live organizational problems. In tune with the basic organizational value of giving it’s due to the society, the leadership program needs candidates to enroll for community development programs. 

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