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In the never-ending quest for who is really developing raw talent, Fortune magazine, along with human resources consulting firm Hewitt Associates and HR services firm RBL Group, created a system to rate the world’s largest companies.

In choosing their top 25 firms, judges found that the best organizations go beyond the basics in developing strong leaders and come up with new ways to test employees.

A sampling of their favorite “stretch” assignments:

1. In 1989, General Electric’s appliance division sold 1 million refrigerators with faulty compressors. To manage the largest and most hellish recall to date, the company could have brought in a recall specialist. Instead, its CEO and HR chief saw a chance to develop a leader and tapped 33-year-old Jeff Immelt, even though he had no experience with either appliances or recalls.

In hindsight, Immelt says, “I wouldn’t be CEO today if I hadn’t had that job.”

2. One trend in leadership development is socially responsible experiences. Brazil’s Natura Cosmeticos sends managers to work full time organizing and building nongovernmental organizations.

3. General Mills, along with many other top firms, expects its most promising executives to serve on nonprofit boards.

4. Recognizing that travel and foreign postings are eye-openers for any future leader, IBM has developed a Corporate Service Corps, now going on three years old. The program sends teams of 10 employees on four-week assignments in developing countries to work on solving local problems.

John Tolva’s assignment to Ghana in 2008 struck home during a game of Scrabble by candlelight, when he and his teammates from India, Germany, Brazil and other countries made up their own rule: Use any language you know.

“That’s when I understood what a globally integrated enterprise looks like,” he says.

Besides the new perspective, Tolva’s experience also yielded “nine other people in the company I would trust with my life.”

While smaller organizations don’t necessarily have the need or means to send budding leaders around the globe, anyone can provide junior employees with mind-expanding opportunities.

— Adapted from “Top Companies for Leaders,” Beth Kowitt and Kim Thai, Fortune.

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