Identifying High-Potential New Leaders

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By Jeff Wolf

How do you identify high-potential new leaders? Leaders must be proficient in both hard and soft skills. For years, organizations looked at only hard skills or technical knowledge, such as expertise in strategy or finance. They viewed these hard skills as the most important characteristics of high-potential leaders. However, the soft skills (people or interpersonal skills) are key for the next generation of leaders.

Look for these soft skills:

  • effective communication
  • coaching ability
  • listening skills
  • teambuilding capability
  • facility for building relationships with their staffs and teams and with cross-functional areas to achieve goals and get work done
  • a sense of inquisitiveness
  • a willingness to improve
  • trustworthiness
  • a tendency to ask a lot of questions
  • an understanding of how their actions have an effect not only on themselves, but also on others

Leadership is difficult and demanding because leaders must help drive results, inspire, guide people and teams, and make tough decisions. Clearly, not everyone has the desire to lead, so the first question appears to be:

  • Does the person want to be a leader?
  • What are his goals and aspirations?
  • Does she see the big picture versus having a silo mentality?
  • Does he have the ability to strategically navigate complicated issues?
  • What types of real-life experiences does she have?
  • Is he honest and ethical?

Leaders need to be positive and have a great attitude because they can either impart or sap energy. A leader’s upbeat attitude becomes contagious, lifting the morale of those around her. You can always teach skills, but you cannot always teach people how to be positive; they either have a great attitude or they don’t.

Observe firsthand how potential leaders work with others and how other people view them. When they stand up to speak in front of a group, do they exude confidence, present articulate, clear messages, and carry themselves well? They should also have good judgment skills in three discrete areas:

  1. People. Can they make sound judgments about people, such as anticipating the need for key personnel changes and aligning people to make the right call?
  2. Strategy. Are they flexible and adaptable? Can they make changes when a current strategy isn’t working?
  3. Grace Under Pressure. When they’re in crisis situations, do they remain calm, focus on their goals, think clearly, and develop new alternative strategies? When they make a mistake, do they admit it, let others know about it, and move forward, or do they try to hide it? By admitting mistakes, they serve as role models, communicating that it’s okay to fail and make a mistake.

Lastly, employ a series of tests and assessments to further measure their hard and soft skills.

LOOKING FOR A FRESH PERSPECTIVE TO IDENTIFY AND GROW YOUR LEADERS?

Jeff Wolf is the author of the international best-seller Seven Disciplines of a Leader.
A dynamic speaker and highly requested executive coach, he was named one of the country’s top 100 thought leaders for his accomplishments in leadership development and managerial effectiveness. He may be reached at 858-638-8260 or jeff@wolfmotivation.com

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Using The Billboard Effect To Develop and Obtain Employee Buy-In On The Leader’s Vision

by Jeff Wolf

Time to Read: 2 minutes

Warren Bennis, acclaimed scholar, author and advisor to corporation presidents said “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Well expressed, but it’s easier said than done. What’s needed are practical steps to develop a communicable vision coupled with practical steps to achieve employee buy in.

Notice that I emphasized the word practical, because unless the leader’s vision is easy to understand, believable and clearly stated, even the most imaginative vision will become just another page in the employee manual gathering dust.

Let’s first define “billboard effect” and how it translates into developing a workable vision that achieves employee buy-in. A billboard is the visual image of the leader’s vision. In few but meaningful words it paints a picture of what the company and its people stand for and what it wants to achieve. It is future oriented and describes where the company expects to be tomorrow and from there onward.

Next, let’s examine steps in developing the vision, then steps in getting the organization’s people to buy into that vision.

Developing The Vision

  • Highly effective leaders have big ideas. Small ideas are okay, but they’re not transformative. Big ideas help companies and employees face the challenges of tomorrow. This is no better expressed than Robert Kennedy quoting George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were, and say, ‘Why not?’ “Companies with leaders who have the imagination and drive to adopt big ideas are the Apples and Googles and Ubers of tomorrow. Those big ideas are nurtured by leaders who make astute observations of their companies and their industries, and then reflect and decide what visions need to be in place to handle tomorrow’s problems and opportunities.
  • Reflection is the stimulus that leads to big ideas, but leaders know that clear and careful expression of their visions must be committed to writing. The process of writing clarifies visions such that they can be robustly expressed in words that command the organization’s attention.
  • With the visions now distinctly articulated, leaders can construct and post billboards throughout the organization and express their visions during talks with members of the organization. These billboards, reduced to clear maxims, concisely reflect those visions. For example, “Our company will take whatever measures needed to assure that product quality satisfies our customers . . . or we will return their money without question.” That is both clear and unambiguous. And it sets the stage for transformation of the organization to achieve that vision.
  • Leaders should be prepared to tweak, modify, even change vision statements when those visions aren’t producing expected When it comes to visions nothing is set in stone. The mark of a highly effective leader is the willingness to forgo ego and do what is right for the organization. The best of leaders prepare alternate plans.

Buying Into The Vision

  • I would argue that the very first prerequisite for employee buy in is to simply listen to what employees think and say about their jobs and the company’s direction. Keeping an open ear is crucial. And don’t get distracted by their complaints. Remember that engaged employees, those who really care about the company, expose many of the organization’s problems and lost opportunities through complaints. This is a great chance for leaders to make positive changes based on worthwhile employee suggestions.
  • I would become suspicious if employees don’t gripe. That means their voices are being throttled, and that is the absolute worst situation of all.
  • Employees need positive reinforcement. They won’t buy into a faulty vision, one that is not productive. That implies going beyond the stage of encouraging them to speak freely. It means measuring how successful the company’s vision is working. Take the quality example mentioned before. How are employees (or managers for that matter) going to know how successful their efforts are without measureable feedback? That means providing them with yardsticks of performance. It entails, in this example, weekly or monthly reports on rejects, scrap, customer complaints and customer returns, with as much data as possible reflecting individual employee performance.
  • Additionally, to combat what I call “vision tedium,” employees need to know how effective the company has been pursuing its vision long-term. Quarterly and annual postings will tell the tale along with periodic meetings with employee groups.
  • Leaders should put in place a follow-up procedure (possibly an annual review) because employee buy in of vision is not a one-time event. Constant follow-up is required to assure that employees remain engaged, informed and responsive to emerging problems. One of the difficulties of either a mature or growing organization is that leaders stop emphasizing company priorities and changes in priorities. They may delegate vision just as they delegate tasks, but the two are not equal. Vision remains both the prerogative and responsibility of organization leaders.

Now is the time to enhance the leadership skills of the leaders in your organization.

Contact us today for more information about our Leadership Development Program or to have Jeff Wolf coach your leaders and high potential leaders.

If you are having a meeting, conference or convention, bestselling author Jeff Wolf is available to speak about leadership and a variety of topics.

Contact Jeff directly at: jeff@wolfmotivation.com or 858-638-8260

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Wolf Management Consultants
www.wolfmotivation.com

Never Stop Developing People

How can managers and leaders develop the people who report directly to them so these direct reports can assume more responsibility?

  • To develop people to take on more responsibility, a leader must support and coach people so they can cultivate new skills and embrace opportunities for professional development and personal growth. Leaders must guide others to create their own development plans, not do it for them. People are more productive when they take ownership of their plans.
  • You have to set expectations, encourage people to achieve their goals, praise their success often, and ensure the flow of open communication. Leaders must challenge, probe, and ask questions to reach decision-making. Learn to ask open-ended questions such as: How does that work? What does that mean? If you do this, what do you think may happen? Why do you think it will work? What’s your next step? Which tools do you need? These questions teach people to become analytical and think more strategically. Lastly, you must empower people by giving them ownership, which shows your confidence in their abilities and enables them to succeed or fail on their own.
  • See that each employee is not just doing a job, but that his reach is also being stretched. Assign people to jobs in much the same way that sports coaches or music teachers choose exercises for their students, to push them just beyond their current capabilities and build the skills that are most important. About two-thirds of people’s development comes from carefully chosen job assignments and about one-third from mentoring coaching and classroom training. Put managers into stretch jobs that require them to learn and grow. For people trying to improve, making real decisions in real time is the central practice activity that produces growth. Your hardest experience – the stretches that most challenge you – are the most helpful.
  • Find ways to develop leaders in their jobs. You experience tension between your need to develop people by moving them through different jobs and you need to develop their expertise in certain domains by leaving them in jobs. A division has a tough time competing when the boss moves on every 18 to 24 months (a typical pattern). The challenge is to provide the growth benefits of new stretch assignments without moving people into new jobs so often.
  • Know the critical roles of teachers and constantly provide feedback. Great performance is built through activities designed specifically to improve particular skills. Teachers and coaches are helpful in designing those activities. Yet at most organizations, nobody is assigned the role of teacher or coach. Employees aren’t told which skills will be most helpful to them, nor how best to develop them. Top-performing organizations have explicit coaching and mentoring programs. Careful job assignments and other programs determine the direction of an employee’s development; mentors provide detailed advice on which subset of skills need attention immediately. And people receive frequent, rapid, and accurate feedback to improve performance.
  • Identify promising performers early. Working on people’s development early creates huge advantages, and yet in most companies, development programs are reserved for an elite group of executives who are several years into their careers. Developing future leaders early creates a competitive advantage that lasts for decades, as their pipelines of high achievers become bigger, better, and more reliable.
  • Develop people through inspiration, not authority. Deliberate practice activities are so demanding that no one can sustain them for long without strong motivation. The best leaders contribute to that motivation through a sense of mission. Identifying or even creating an inspiring sense of mission requires a journey deep into the corporate soul.
  • Invest time, money, and energy in developing people. People development is at the center of the CEO’s responsibilities. Indeed, the biggest investment may be the time of the CEO and other executives. As they see what the boss is focusing on, they become similarly devoted to developing people. Not that these companies rely solely on the power of example. Virtually all of them evaluate executives partly on how well they’re developing people, including themselves.

Jacket image, Seven Disciplines of a Leader by Jeff WolfMake leadership development part of the culture. At the best companies, developing leaders isn’t a program, it’s a way of life. For example, honest feedback has to be culturally acceptable; at many companies it isn’t. Devoting time to mentoring has to be accepted.

Adapted from Seven Disciplines of a Leader (Wiley) by Jeff Wolf.

For further information to grow your leaders contact us today at Wolf Management Consultants at (858) 638-8260.

Never Stop Developing People first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.