In 2010, First Horizon National Corporation introduced its Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), a class of high-achieving, high-potential employees prepared to embrace people-leadership roles at the next level. The brainchild of First Horizon’s Diversity Council, the Emerging Leaders Program enhances the organization’s talent management and succession planning efforts, while putting a distinct focus on diversity and inclusion.

Applicants must qualify within select grade levels and have approval from their leader, in addition to participating in two rounds of applications and interviews, before a final selection is made. Each ELP class consists of 25–30 members, with diversity within demographics and areas of the bank driving selection.

“Internally, we consider ELP a mini-MBA program—it is that rigorous,” says Cindy Cleveland, Vice President of Talent Management for First Horizon. “And we require a high level of strategic thinking that is applied to current business issues. Because it’s tangible learning, it is embraced quickly and effectively.”

The program involves 10 months of vigorous multiday sessions, an action learning project, multiple public-speaking opportunities, and, of course, high visibility for the diverse group of candidates. Program content focuses on developing four main competencies—thought leadership, results leadership, people leadership, and personal leadership. The development of these competencies is supported through multiple learning methodologies, including lectures, individual and group exercises, case studies, on-the-job training, and mentoring/coaching.

“The investment in the program has paid off tremendously,” says Cleveland. “Since the introduction of ELP, over 30 percent of program graduates have experienced strategic career development moves and promotions throughout our company. And work conducted during the action learning projects has helped drive efficiencies and innovations for our various business lines.”

First Horizon has many high performers and achievers throughout their company, and company leaders consistently seek ways to help internal candidates gain visibility to high-level opportunities. The Emerging Leaders Program allows them to do it in a strategic and diverse way, by producing a pool of diverse leaders, ready for the next level of responsibility.