Leadership development: choosing people to develop

May 16, 2018 by Wally Bock

Leadership development starts with identifying the people who might succeed as leaders. It shouldn’t be as hard as we make it. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman outline the problem in their HBR post: “Why the Most Productive People Don’t Always Make the Best Managers.” Here’s the money quote.

“When a company needs a supervisor for a team, senior leaders often anoint the team’s most productive performer. Some of these stars succeed in their new role as manager; many others do not. And when they fail, they tend to leave the organization, costing the company double: Not only has the team lost its new manager, but it’s also lost the best individual contributor. And the failure can be personally costly for the new manager, causing them to doubt their skills, smarts, and future career path. Everyone loses.”

I’ve never met another person in business who admitted to believing that the way to get effective leaders was to promote the top performing individual contributors. So, why do we keep doing it?

Well, we’ve always done it that way before. And it worked as long as the most important requirement for the job was knowing the work to be done in great detail. But those days are gone. They slipped into history with the Industrial Age.

Today, many companies do just what Zenger and Folkman describe. They don’t know how to spot winners, so they stay with tried and true. Even if it’s not true any longer. There’s a better way.

Leadership development starts with two things

If you want to pick leaders who are likely to succeed, look for two things. They must want the challenge and they should show signs that they can succeed.

Leadership development and aspiration

Develop leaders who aspire to the work. Find other ways to give hard workers recognition and financial reward. Don’t make people seek promotion because it’s the only way to get ahead.

Leadership development and potential

Not everyone who wants to be a leader will be a good, or even acceptable one. Use psychological assessments to gauge fitness for the work.

Watch for critical leadership behaviors in everyday work. Does the person you’re considering make decisions? Is he or she willing to confront others about behavior and performance?

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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