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Leadership Development at IBM

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

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Case Details:


Case Code : HROB147 For delivery in electronic format: Rs. 500;
For delivery through courier (within India): Rs. 500 + Rs. 25 for Shipping & Handling Charges


Leadership Development / Strategic Human Resource Management / Turnaround Management
Case Length : 17 Pages
Period : 1992-2011
Organization : IBM
Pub Date : 2012
Teaching Note : Not Available
Countries : Global
Industry : Information Technology


This case examines the measures taken by IBM to nurture leadership at the company. It discusses in detail about Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, and his efforts to develop a company-wide leadership development process by bringing about cultural change. It details how the leadership development initiatives and succession planning helped the company immensely in making a smooth transition when a CEO retired from his post. The case also presents how a set of 11 competencies went on to become the revolutionary leadership competencies of IBM. It examines how these competencies were revalidated due to the ever changing business models. In addition, the case explains the leadership development programs at IBM that fostered the leadership traits of up-and-coming leaders at the company.

The case details the strategic measures taken by Gerstner to transform IBM from a hardware vendor to a complete IT solutions provider. After Gerstner, how Sam Palmisano brought in a second transformation in the company is also discussed. The case concludes with thoughts on what efforts IBM should take to combat the risk of insularity. How to continuously reinvent the leadership development model of a company amidst rising competition and changes in the business environment? Did IBM leaders become obsolete even before they got a senior leadership role? This case is aimed at MBA level students as part of the Leadership/ Strategic Human Resource Management curriculum. It can also be used in a General Management and Strategy curriculum.


Understand the importance of leadership development in any organization.
Study the key elements of leadership training and development at IBM.
Examine the process of developing future leaders and identify the basic tenets of successful leadership development programs of IBM.
Analyze the concept of Leadership competencies and leadership traits followed at IBM.
Understand the importance of 'building from within' the company in fostering loyalty and leadership competencies.
Understand the need to continuously reinvent the leadership traits of a company amidst rising competition and changes in the business environment.


  Page No.
Introduction 1
Background Note 2
Leadership Under Lou Grestner: Proposals, and the Transformation 4
IBM Leadership Competencies 7
IBM's Nextgens and Senior Leadership Group 9
IBM's Executive Assistant Program 10
IBM's New Leadership Traits 10
Developing Leaders at IBM - The Process 10
Leadership Foundation 11
Emerging Leaders 11
Basic Blue 11
Other Initiatives 11
Risk of the Insularity? 12
Exhibits 13

Key Words:

Leadership Development, Leadership roles, Leadership competencies, Leadership traits, Developing leadership capabilities, Building Organizational Capability, 'On-Demand' strategy, Product-centric to customer-centric, Training, Executive development, 'Operation Bear Hug', Worldwide Management Council, Senior Leadership Group, Coaching, Mentoring, 'NextGens', IBM's Advanced Leaders Series, Executive Assistant Program, Leadership Foundation, Emerging Leaders, Basic Blue, IBM

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