Secrets to Identifying Future Leaders and Avoiding Costly Mistakes

Secrets to Identifying Future Leaders and Avoiding Costly Mistakes

After taking care of customers, one of the most critical requirements for any business is developing leaders who can carry on the mission of the organization. It is never a question of “if” the current leaders will leave the organization, but only a question of “when.” Anyone in a leadership position today will eventually retire, be forced out by circumstances, or leave to seek another opportunity. Whenever a key leader leaves, it is important to have a strong bench of new leaders who are ready to take charge.

In order to avoid a major disruption, a replacement leader must be named to step-in and carry on the critical work of leading the business. This can only happen if the current leadership takes responsibility to prepare the next generation of leaders. It begins with identifying potential leaders and then providing training and development to prepare them for this eventuality. Identifying and developing leaders is a complex task for which there are no simple answers; however, there are some secrets that make this possible:

Assessments: Use assessments to identify potential leaders from your staff. A common assessment tool is a nine block matrix where people are ranked from low, medium to high on two dimensions: performance and potential. Performance is a backward look about how well someone performed in the past to meet their intended goals and objectives.

Potential is a forward look to predict how well someone will perform in the future, usually in a different role than their current position. This makes potential more difficult to assess and often is more subjective. However, if an employee is consistently rated over time as high in both potential and performance, especially by multiple mangers, then they are likely the best candidates among their peers to consider as future leaders.

Training and Development: Once the pool of likely candidates is determined, provide them with training and development opportunities. Training tends to be more formal, focused on theory, and delivered in a classroom or seminar. Development on the other hand is usually more practically oriented where the lessons from the classroom can be applied on-the-job in short term assignments as a project leader, temporary team leader, or on a cross-functional team in another part of the organization.

When provided with development opportunities, feedback on their performance and potential from someone other than their immediate supervisor will also help to hone the accuracy of the assessment process.

Opportunities to Grow: Finally, there becomes a point when some candidate will need to be tested in the arena. They must be given opportunities to grow. These are not without risk, because some will fail. So often they are given assignments where the risk of failure will not be fatal to either the organization or the individual. When they are provided these opportunities, there should be a more senior leader who can mentor them to maximize the chance of success.

When people step-up and succeed, they will be ready to move up to the next challenge when it occurs. Both the organization and the individual can be confident in the likelihood of success.

During the current economic downturn, many businesses have slashed their budgets for training and development. In some cases this was a necessary step to insure the survival of the business. In other cases, it may have appeared to be a prudent step from a cost savings perspective; however, it may also have been a short-sighted move when weighed against the long-term need to maintain a strong leadership bench. Now may be the time to reconsider such a decision and restore training and development dollars for leadership development.

By taking the necessary steps now to identify and develop the next generation of leaders, businesses will avoid potentially costly mistakes as a result of placing unprepared leaders, even if they have high potential, in critical assignments. Hiring the wrong leaders is not only a problem for the individual, but can cause significant collateral damage with customers, other staff, and other stakeholders. Minimize the risk of making the wrong choices on the next generation of leaders by applying these three simple secrets today.

By John Vaughan

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