The idea is to incrementally groom leaders by providing increased responsibilities, and not by merely announcing them at one shot and saying 'here is your next leader'
As the popular saying goes, leadership is all about ‘building more leaders’ in the organization. Identifying, coaching and grooming high potential individuals play a key role in building the leadership pipeline. In the technology industry, it is critical to choose an individual who brings in passion for technology, people quotient and business acumen. However, these folks are not readily available; they need to be built over a period of time by grooming. In this story, we will delve into three pragmatic aspects that need to be considered in the grooming process.
Assuming that you are a leader who is looking forward to build your next set of leaders, the first step is to identify key strengths among the set of individuals, who can potentially take up the leadership position. Leaders need to spend significant amount of time by developing deeper listening to these individuals for assessment. Here are the typical questions you need to consider against each individual.
1. What is the technology depth vs. breadth an individual has? Is he a detail oriented problem solver or generalist with common set of skills?
2. Does he possess significant relationship building skills? What is his individual track record in interacting with customers?
3. How good is his Emotional Quotient? Can he take people together in a compassionate manner? How does he react under pressure or conflicting situations?
4. How good is his interest in self-development? Has he shown interest in investing in himself by taking up organization-specific training programs or considers it as an overhead?
The above mentioned questions may not be conclusive, but it would provide you with a clear indication of an individual’s strengths. Once it becomes clear, he needs to be positioned to take up leadership roles, depending on his/her strength area. At the end of this assessment process, you will have the list of potential people who are competent to some extent to take up leadership positions.
While the first step talks about an individual’s strength and his competency, it is definitely not sufficient to choose an individual as a leader. Here is where the critical factor of ‘value alignment’ comes into picture. An individual may be extremely good with certain skills, but if he does not have the necessary value alignment with the organization by possessing the right values, he will become a disaster in the long run. Here are a few questions to assess the value alignment of an individual:
1. How strong is his integrity? Can you trust any number he gives, which could be in as simple a situation as the estimation he provides for his own work completion? Does he bloat up the time just to ensure he is in a comfort zone?
2. When any mistakes happen, does he protect his team members or does he pass the blame on them?
3. How well does he understand the organization’s core values and vision? Has he developed understanding of how the organization core values map his work?
4. Does he feel comfortable in sharing the bad news first?
5. Does he convey the same message to the higher and lower levels?
Again, the above mentioned questions may not be conclusive, but clearly indicate whether an individual is value aligned or not. Given a choice, it is always better to choose a guy with strong values than the one having higher competency, mainly because competency can be groomed.
Once we identify an individual with a stronger grip in competency and value aspects, he needs to be positioned in the team to do the leadership role without giving formal authority. This means, rather than announcing ‘here is your next team leader or manager’, it is always better to groom them in the role by taking a step-by-step approach. As a part of the coaching, you need to identify his gap areas for taking up the leadership role and align it with current responsibilities and performance management system. Thus, an individual also understands that he has to evolve into the role by working in the gap areas gradually.
On the job, the individual needs to be given incremental responsibility. To start with, few coordination activities can be identified (for example, project metric collection) by working with various members in the team. The team should be clear about his new responsibility, mainly to avoid any potential conflicts. Slowly but steadily, such responsibilities need to be increased depending on how well an individual is able to adjust with this new role. When he does any mistakes during the process, you need to support him by providing proper orientation. Rather than putting him into a full blown leadership coaching program, it is always better to coach him on the job with real time examples like this. Along with that, he can be nominated for internal/external leadership training programs.
Some of the initial set of challenges that leader-under-grooming could be facing and where orientation needs to be provided are:
1. Handling conflicts
2. Influencing individual members without formal authority
3. Handling negativity in team member
4. Self-doubt or over-confidence
Once this incremental coaching is done, the leader-under-grooming will eventually graduate and become a well seasoned leader. Now, he can be announced as a formal leader to the team by giving complete control of the team. However, on a regular basis, you need to do necessary checks and ensure things are moving as planned.
Of course, it is easier said than done. It is a continuous journey where you need to invest a lot of time and energy in grooming. There can be many issues/challenges that will come on the way that you will need to take up and resolve. After all, when it comes to leadership, nobody can say ‘I am done’!
Jayakumar Balasubramanian is a Senior R&D Manager at Huawei Technologies, Bangalore. His personal blog/writings can be accessed from http://jwritings.com