Leaders: Are They Born or Made?
Here’s How You Can Tell If Someone is an Emerging Leader—and What You Should Be Doing to Help Him or Her Develop Into a Great One.
You face tough customers and fierce competition. That, of course, goes with the territory of being an equipment manufacturer or dealer.
However, you also face complex organizational challenges—challenges that can only be addressed on the strength of dynamic leadership. Not just leadership at the top, but leadership in every department.
More so, these challenges demand that you also look to the development of leaders for the future, because the challenges of today will continue into tomorrow and be joined by new challenges still to come.
Finding and cultivating these future leaders is thus imperative. How will you go about it?
Where to Put Your Focus
The starting point is to take note of individuals who exhibit high potential for leadership. Unimportant is whether these individuals are performing highly in whatever role they happen now to occupy.
The reason it is a mistake to prize performance over potential is that some people who are exceptionally competent at their jobs lack what it takes to be a great leader.
Rewarding those with potential rather than outstanding performance will not help improve their abilities to stand out and take leadership, but rather make these individuals complacent in their work effort.
By elevating those who aren’t cut out to be leaders, you risk the creation of department or companywide morale problems—and those can easily bring about a loss of productivity.
Consider this example. On the payroll of an average-sized company is a technician. Because he is the company’s best technician, it’s decided to promote him to the position of manager of the service department with the expectation that his excellent technical skills will translate into excellent leadership skills.
He eagerly and appreciatively accepts the new responsibility. However, in practically no time at all, it becomes evident that he is incapable of inspiring subordinates to act as a cohesive, functional, efficiency-driven, cost-conscious, innovation-minded team.
After a period of wishful waiting to give him a chance to “grow” into the role, top management finally realizes that pushing this technician to take on an assignment outside his area of expertise was a mistake. Now, someone in the company is going to have to play the “bad-guy” and remove an otherwise outstanding employee from his or her leadership post.
The job will go to someone else, but whoever gets it will be nervous about stepping into the shoes of a coworker who vacated not due to promotion but, rather, to demotion.
Additionally, the tech who lost the position will almost certainly be disgruntled, having suffered the indignity of being branded a failure. How much contagious bitterness he will spread throughout the company in the weeks and months ahead is difficult to predict. But spread it will, and almost surely to the detriment of the company—perhaps even to the extent of unsettling a number of loyal customers and reliable suppliers.
The corollary of this example is the employee who excels in his job but has no desire to be a leader. He’s promoted to that position regardless. A born follower at heart, he has no clue what to do with the leadership mantle thrust upon him. Things quickly unravel and, again, someone must act as the bad guy who brings news of demotion. Hard feelings surface and, once more, the company is in trouble.
Moral of these two stories: it is vitally important that you identify the right people for leadership roles—individuals who demonstrate the actual potential to serve in that capacity.
Finding Employees with Leadership Potential
Here is a list of questions you should be asking yourself as you scout for individuals with the makings to become an outstanding leader. Does this person:
- Demonstrate initiative beyond the current job position?
- Proactively offer ideas and potential solutions to problems (thereby showing he or she is invested in the company’s success)?
- Demonstrate accountability?
- Possess interpersonal skills and work well with others?
- “Make things happen” by being proactive instead of reactive?
- Bend over backward to help customers and team members?
- Exhibit unflinching reliability?
- Think the same way you do when it comes to decision-making?
- Motivate and influence others?
- Appear capable of evolving into a strategic leader?
- Express interest in developing or improving upon leadership and management skills?
- Seem eager to take on more responsibility?
- (Most importantly) Communicate clearly and concisely?
Your goal in asking these questions is to select as candidates for leadership development those individuals most likely to deliver results.
In the course of conducting your talent search, keep in mind that no rule requires you to only consider employees under the age of 40. You’ll find great potential leaders among the ranks of your Millennial employees, yes. But you’ll also find worthy candidates among the gray-haired set. Always remember that the older employee who is intimately familiar with your processes, procedures, structure, culture, and perhaps even your customers may turn out to be an ideal individual to train for a leadership role.
Also, do not overlook the significance of America being a multicultural, multiethnic society—a fact duly acknowledged by federal and state Equal Opportunity laws which encourage you to strive for the most diverse workforce possible. So be sure to give female and minority employees careful consideration as potential leaders. They bring unique qualities and perspectives to the leadership table and, as well, enhance your ability to attract, hire, and retain top talent at all levels.
Beginning the Process of Leadership Development
Now that you have identified potential and emerging leaders among your employees, it is time to prepare them for positions at the top.
The process of developing a leader involves 10 steps. Happily, these steps are simple.
- Bring your emerging leaders together so that they can learn from one another. Invite them to jointly explore new ways of doing business, innovate better ways of conducting existing operations, cultivate stronger management/employee relationships, and strive to deliver highest quality service to customers, to the other members of the team, and to you. Challenge them to come up with approaches that can be adopted companywide to better support your sales team.
- Provide ongoing, repetitious training. The “one and done” approach to leadership training won’t cut it. The most effective way to provide training that continuously covers familiar ground (in order to hammer home the business concepts every effective leader must possess) is to offer instruction that has practical application to your leadership trainees’ day-to-day activities. The result of this training should be competency in each of these areas:
- Strategic thinking
- Effective decision-making
- Managing and motivating employees
- Change Management
- Culture transformation
- Customer-service excellence
- Conflict management
- Communication Skills
- Any additional training relevant to your company
- Send your leadership trainees to leadership events of your trade association.
- Send female leaders and emerging leaders to a “Women’s Leadership Event” or training program. You could also follow the example of smart companies that have benefitted greatly by implementing in-house women’s leadership development programs or, put together one of your own.
- Designate a seat at your executive meetings to be filled by an emerging leader. If you have more than one emerging leader in your stable, allow them to sit in on a rotating basis—welcome a different emerging leader each time the top executives meet.
- Request that each emerging leader’s supervisor monitors his or her progress, and update you on it at regular intervals. Make the same request to your HR department.
- Instruct your emerging leaders to communicate with one another often in order to share their challenges and be able to help each other.
- Assign to your emerging leader’s responsibility for devising viable solutions to one or more of the company’s most pressing problems. When you do, you will be amazed at the results.
- Set up shadowing. Have your emerging leaders spend a full day tagging along with an executive to see up close exactly what he or she does to contribute to company success. Have them shadow as well your sales manager, parts manager, and one of the sales associates.
- Welcome your emerging leaders into your meetings. Solicit their thoughts about the hits, runs, and misses of the previous week. Encourage them to offer their views about what they might have done differently during those last five business days to achieve greater success.
One final point. If your company is family owned and you’ll one day be passing the baton to a son, daughter, grandchild, or another relative, be sure to have in place a succession plan that includes the 10 leadership development steps listed above. Your heir apparent needs to be fully ready, willing, and able to step into your shoes and carry your legacy forward. Leadership development of family members is a matter you cannot ignore.
It has been argued that great leaders are born, not made. But that is incorrect. Because even natural-born leaders must be trained before they can successfully occupy the big office or be in front of a counter. You owe it to your company—and to yourself—to properly and completely train individuals who are legitimately suited to become leaders. Otherwise, you may be doing nothing more than courting disaster.
© 2018, Christine Corelli & Associates, Inc. Christine Corelli has had a distinguished 25-year career as an international keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, and business columnist. She has authored six books, including the best-selling, Wake Up and Smell the Competition – now in its fifth edition. Corelli’s clients are characterized by Fortune 500 companies, major trade associations, and an abundance of mid-size and small companies. To learn more visit https://www.christinespeaks.com – To contact her for an upcoming meeting or event, call (847) 477-7376.