How to recognize employees with the right stuff…
I’ve written in the past (most recently here and here) on leadership qualities, how we develop them and how we choose managers. Leadership (and management) succession have always been HR hot topics, and yet we still seem to struggle with the how-to’s and the wherefores’ of developing and choosing leaders in our organizations.
Korn Ferry, a talent management organization, conducted a global succession planning survey that assessed how companies identified and developed future leaders. "The results show us that people are promoted for what they can do, but fail for who they are," states Stu Crandell, senior vice president of global offerings at Korn Ferry and the Korn Ferry Institute. This is indicative of the common practice of promoting people because they’re good at the tasks of their job, not because they exhibit good management or leadership traits. One can be a successful and valuable individual contributor and yet not have what it takes to lead or manage.
The Korn Ferry survey had some tips on what signs to look for in potential future leaders in your organization (see the link above for the full survey results), and I’ve added my own perspective below.
Learning agility. Has your employee taken what he’s learned from previous experiences and applied it in different or new situations?
Self-awareness. Is your employee able to identify her own strengths and weaknesses? Has she taken steps to improve where necessary?
The drive to be a leader. Does your employee seek out more challenging opportunities inside and outside of work?
Being able to adapt. Closely related to taking risks is being able to adapt when the outcome is not as expected or desired. Things are constantly changing in business today. Does your employee work best with clear direction and a roadmap? If so, he will most likely struggle with constantly changing priorities. Leaders need to the ability to adapt to their surroundings as well as to the needs of the company.
Integrity and honesty. Leaders need to tell the truth, without fear and without always hedging their bets. When faced with a moral or legal issue, does your employee choose the ethical and legal course of action?
Grace under fire. When problems arise, teams look to their leaders for direction, but if a leaders isn’t readily available, they will next turn to the person who has shown he can keep his cool and who has a record of handling difficult situations. Nobody wants to work with the person who’s running around pulling his hair out and catastrophizing.
Leaders share their knowledge. They get that sharing gets them even more back. They realize that imparting knowledge leads to more independence and productivity on the part of those they share with. If your employee tends to keep his knowledge and processes to himself, he’s operating in "job security" mode or is covering up inadequacies.
Analyze, synthesize and condense data. Leaders have a way of cutting through the clutter. They can sort through the data and select the most relevant information and sources. They are able to see ahead to the consequences of several paths to goals, based on that data. And they are able to communicate the gist of the situation clearly and directly.
Takes responsibility and ownership. Everyone makes mistakes. Is your employee always willing to admit to making a mistake when something doesn't work out as planned? Is she also attempting to learn from the mistake to avoid it in the future? Also, leaders forge ahead with the tasks given to them and take responsibility for completion of those tasks. They are not seeking instruction and feedback every five minutes on how to go about those tasks.
Willing to take risks. There are times when taking a risk is the right thing to do. Being willing to take calculated and informed risks is necessary for a leader of any organization. Not having an outcome guaranteed but forging ahead is an important characteristic to lead the organization.
Leaders have initiative. Is your employee able to quickly identify what needs to be done, and is able to do those things with only minimal prompting or supervision? These are the folks who often ask for more work should they find themselves with down time.
Leaders think independently. They know they don’t have all the answers, and ask for others’ insight when necessary, but they draw their own conclusions. They do not defer to the pack to avoid confrontation or avoid having to make a decision. Does your employee lead or follow the pack?
Leaders are passionate. They feel strongly about their views and don’t shy away from expressing them. They back up their views with data, evidence and other information, but are strong decision makers.
Assume informal leadership roles. Does your employee voluntarily (and naturally) take on leadership roles either inside or outside of the workplace?
If those who have been identified as future leaders in your organization don’t exhibit most of these traits, it’s time to engage in more development activities, or time to select new candidates for leadership roles.