One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders. It can be easy for those at the top to forget that eventually someone will have to take their place at the helm. And ignoring that fact has lead to issues with succession planning, unwanted turnover and other challenges in leadership development in many organizations.
2016 High Impact Leadership research from Bersin by Deloitte asked 2,422 HR and business leaders from around the world how well they believed they could discover new leadership talent. Just 35 percent of respondents said they were above average when it came to successfully identifying and developing leaders.
To understand why this is, consider the typical leadership development paradox. Traditionally, the first step is to choose who has leadership potential, then develop their skillset. Logically, however, this makes little sense. How is it possible to identify effective leaders if employees have yet to receive any type of leadership development?
Here are four ways to properly identify better qualified candidates for leadership positions:
1. Stop choosing potential leaders based on unrelated skills.
Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager Report, which studied 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, found that the top two reasons employees are promoted to management positions are because they were successful in a non-managerial role or because of their tenure with the company. Neither of those criteria have any proven correlation with leadership skills or relevant experience.
Create a better means of measuring for true leadership potential. Look at the culture of the organization and envision what it would look like for someone to lead by those values. Also consider how successful leaders evolved over time in the organization. Then use that information to make a list of recognizable traits to look for as signs of leadership potential.
2. Broaden leadership development to more employees.
People learn and grow at their own unique pace. Requiring that an employee reach a certain position or be with the company for a certain number of years before they’re offered leadership opportunities holds back those who might be ready for more responsibility now. Or even worse, it might push those who aren’t yet ready into leadership roles.
Instead, let leadership development be a company-wide initiative. This gives more people the chance to take the next step in their career. It also creates a larger pool of possible great leaders to draw from across the organization.
3. Track progress and growth.
There’s no way of knowing who is ready to step up and lead unless development is monitored. Remember that this is a process. Employees need feedback from their mentors and coaches to know for certain what skills they’ve mastered as well as where there can still be improvements made.
Develop a way to assess progress for different leadership positions, and be clear with employees and coaches about what success would look like in different situations. For instance, explain what is expected of a first time project leader. Get everyone on the same page about the developing leader’s responsibilities and how that should guide their team.
Then collect thorough feedback from all those involved. Ask the leadership candidate what challenges they faced as well as where they think they thrived. Pose the same questions to those they supervised and organizational mentors. Over time, this will reveal patterns that make it easier to identify who is best suited for leadership in the long-term.
4. Focus on continual leadership development.
There is no such thing as too much experience. There is always more that can be learned. After leadership candidates have been identified, continue to nurture them. This keeps employees from feeling that they have plateaued, which is unfortunately common.
The 2014 Insigniam Middle Management Survey: Middle Management’s Critical Role In Saving Company Innovation looked at responses from 200 middle managers from around the world. It found that only 15 percent of managers believe they will ever be promoted to the next level of leadership at their company.
Whether intentionally or not, employees who have proven their leadership abilities are being told that their leadership journey is over -- and this hurts both them and the organization. Encourage a steady stream of highly trained and skilled leaders working their way up by demonstrating that there is no end to development.
In order to clearly see who the next wave of leaders is going to be, employees need to be given the chance to hone and exercise their skills. That means redefining how leadership potential is identified and providing each employee with the chance to develop personally and professionally.