On my flight back from Florida (see my Key West post here), I read the December issue of Harvard Business Review. There´s a great article called, "How to Grow Great Leaders"?? by Douglas A. Ready that got me thinking about building leadership capacity.
In the article, Ready (great last name isn´t it?) shares several questions we can ask to assess whether our company is growing great leaders. Here they are (paraphrased from the article, please check out the article for the full text):
1. Does policy and practice encourage leaders to develop beyond what is currently needed for their present position?
2. Is it a common practice to fill leadership positions from within using high potential folks from other units?
3 Are high potentials brought together to learn, discuss, develop, and grow? Is leadership (challenges and opportunities) a regular topic of discussion between senior management and high potentials?
4. Are leaders rewarded for giving up A-players to fill positions in other units?
5. Does the company culture allow leaders to be promoted to senior posts who do not possess the needed enterprise-wide perspective and vision? Are all current senior leaders up to par?
These are great questions and the article is worth a look. I think it is also important to define and agree on the type of leadership that is most important to support the success of the company. Each company and industry will have different needs and each leadership team will have some unique needs.
For example, I am currently assisting a company identify the most important selection criteria for their top marketing and sales executive (and then will be interviewing top candidates to look for these). There are some usual leadership attributes that are desired, but there are also several skills and abilities that this person will need to compliment and contribute to the senior team. The current team has collective strengths and weaknesses. The new CMO should bring needed strengths to the staff team (and not make the weaknesses worse!).
Each leadership team will have different needs. In general though, the leadership capabilities that I find are most overlooked in the hiring, selection, and development processes are:
Planning and organization – I know, this seems like a no brainer, but these skills are not as well developed as one would think.
Building outstanding teams of people who can execute and create new opportunities. In other words, the ability to select, organize and motivate the right people. (Or as Mihaly Csikszentmihali would say, the ability to enable and reinforce productive flow states.) An employee´s emotional commitment has far more affect on performance than do extrinsic motivators like pay and conditions (but please do pay well, too).
Executive level facilitation – the ability to create and enable excellent business discussions. Relationships = Results.
Root cause analysis – the ability to get to the crux of the issue (or Goldratt´s constraint) and solve problems/remove barriers FOR GOOD.
Time optimization – the ability to use time for the greatest overall good. There is much more to this than most people grasp.
Breakthrough thinking – the ability to create and enable breakthroughs.
Perhaps you have read this and are thinking – oh, boy, we´re in trouble. Great! (Most companies are, so recognizing it is a real advantage.) Here´s how to begin: Start talking about these and other aspects of leadership development. Talk about it a lot because reality is socially constructed and productive conversations are powerful. Make it a priority to establish a high level strategy relative for attracting, developing, and maintaining high performing leaders (and defenistrating poor leaders). Begin making necessary changes today. Organizations that build and keep great leaders will outperform their competition and create beloved companies.