Normal processes lack the intuition and judgement to identify natural leaders
Most business houses will readily agree that ‘leadership development’ is a major challenge. What remains unstated is what we do wrong and what holds us back?
When we look at the way managers are selected for leadership development in most companies, we find a mix of “right reasons” and “wrong reasons”. There are instances when we have a systematic development process based on performance, and potential demonstrated over a period of time. And then there are others when we find a compensatory mechanism in place. “We could not promote you but we want to give you an opportunity to learn”.
Clearly learning agility and leadership competencies will determine the outcome of a development program. This is known to most managers who deal with people, but expediency takes over.
Again most senior managers who deal with people regularly know that on occasion they have spotted a winner!
Trust your intuition and judgment and advocate strongly for people who you “sense” are potential leaders. Use subordinate sequential logic of ‘qualification filter’ and ‘experience filter’ only a verifier, and not as a must. Normal process will only select normal trackers and not identify ‘natural leaders’.
Look for people who seem to get things done – some guys have a natural following!
The unforgettable sequence from the film ‘Deewar’ offers an eloquent lesson. We have the protagonist (Amitabh Bachhan) as a child refusing a coin that is thrown at him. The character ‘Davar’ makes a comment ‘Yeh lambi race ka ghoda hai’. What we have is an assessment based on an event, on attitude, on demeanor.
Most senior managers have had this experience of knowing in their heart, by intuition that they are looking at a winner. But then the sequential logic takes over and they work on building ‘a reasoned argument’ based on data points .The salesmanship of the supervisor has now become more important that the potential’s talent. This is the failing of a beauracratic process. The great Jack Welch did not figure in the list of four potential CEO’s! It was just Reg Jones’ foresight that brought in Jack Welch.
The use of judgment and the ability to flex the process to accommodate the innate competence of some leaders to spot a winner often makes all the difference.
We then look at what makes for a learning context .The power of context. I remember ,while managing a leadership program, I happened to be chosen to administer the ‘Tsunami Relief’ program funded and supported by the Murugappa Group. I had the money and, the authority to deliver relief and rehabilitation.
I called in two executives who were in my charge as part of the leadership program to help me. One, let us call him M had impeccable credentials, public school ,top engineering degree and B School and quite personable to boot .The other a simple but earthy person, let us call him "A”, a man from a rustic rural background albeit an engineer. When charged with the relief task it was A who clearly ‘led’, linking with collectorate, the fisher folk, and the suppliers of medicines, cooking stoves, blankets, and motors. Here was a context that spotted, nurtured and supported a natural leader.
Crisis can be a great medium to spot out natural leaders. We could possibly explore simulating a crisis context, to be used as an effective tool to identify natural leaders.
The third aspect is that those chosen for a leadership program must be overseen at work, appraised, coached by the top team, in the process sore thumbing, correcting compensation, and enriching jobs. Potential leaders have a claim on top management time and that assures greater success. Investment of quality time, especially top management / board time is critical for leadership development.