Catalyst Study: Execs Find 'Paying It Forward' Pays Off

News Updates

Helping others develop their full potential is an integral part of successful leadership. According to the findings of a new Catalyst report, it pays off not only for emerging talent but also for those who invest time in cultivating it.

High-potential individuals who were themselves mentored, coached or sponsored to advance in their careers are more likely to “pay it forward” by developing the next generation of leaders, according to the Catalyst report Leaders Pay It Forward, which examines the career advancement of high-potentials throughout the world. This research is part of The Promise of Future Leadership: A Research Program on Highly Talented Employees in the Pipeline, a longitudinal study on high-potential talent.

From fall 2007 to spring 2010, Catalyst conducted an online survey of alumni who graduated between 1996 and 2007 from MBA programs at 26 leading business schools in Asia, Canada, Europe and the United States. Findings for this report derive from more than 700 responses to the survey, which provided additional information on career progression initially collected in 2008.

Turns out, paying it forward pays back: Findings show that it not only benefited protégés but also led to career advancement and compensation growth equating to approximately $25,000 from 2008 to 2010 for those providing the assistance. Why? It might be that developing other talent creates more visibility and a following within the organization for the high-potentials who are doing the developing, which leads to greater reward and recognition for the extra effort, noted the report.

It’s Your Turn

Overall, the report found that high-potentials who are paying it forward today recognize that others once took a risk on them and gave them their chance—and now it’s their turn. The men and women who are most likely to be developing others:

  • Have received development (59 percent) vs. 47 percent.who have not.
  • Were sponsored (66 percent) vs. 42 percent who were not.
  • Are executives/CEOs (64 percent) vs. nonmanagerial ranks (30 percent).
  • Proactively manage their careers (63 percent) vs. 42 percent who do not.

Women are more likely than men to develop other talent, according to the report. Sixty-five percent of women who received career development support are developing new talent, compared to 56 percent of men; 73 percent of the women developing new talent are developing women, compared to only 30 percent of men. This finding helps bust the oft-cited “Queen Bee” myth that women are reluctant to provide career support to other women and might even undermine each other.

“This report dispels the misconception that women’s career advancement lags behind men’s because they don’t pay it forward to other women,” said Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, in a statement about the report. “The notion that women executives are Queen Bees who are unwilling to support other women needs to be put to rest. [This] shows that women are in fact actively helping each other succeed.”

To create or strengthen a corporate culture that supports executive talent development more fully, the report recommended that companies address the following questions:

  • How is the organization creating a culture of talent development?
  • What will motivate its talent to “pay it forward” to the next generation of leaders?
  • How can men be encouraged to develop women at their organizations?
  • How can organizations disarm stigmas about spending time with the opposite sex at work?

“Paying it forward is an essential element of being an outstanding leader, and it benefits everyone involved—it’s a virtuous circle that leads to more of the same,” said Lang. “We hope that this report helps to dispel myths and prompts organizations and leaders to consider ways to pay it forward to make the most of their talent pool.”