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Finding the Right Leaders for Your Business
 
Published Thursday, January 5, 2017
by DAVID LIDDELL

Leadership is the number one concern for businesses due to a shortage of capable leaders in today’s workforce. That is not to say the potential is not there, it is. The problem is identifying and training those future leaders.

In the past, it was a simple matter of letting the external talent pool develop and then hiring from the outside. Not today. The war for talent is real and becoming more evident each year. Baby boomers are retiring and millennials will soon become the largest generational group. They are young and eager to learn, but many lack the necessary leadership skills.

Organizations that do not address this leadership void will be unprepared for retirements or resignations by its leaders. Businesses, first and foremost, need to look within. There is a high probability that you are sitting on a large, but untapped, group of potential leaders who already know your company’s strengths and weaknesses and want the opportunity to contribute at a higher level.

Only a small percent of workers are natural born leaders. Most need to be taught. The good news is leadership is a learned skill. Developing a sound leadership development approach takes three fundamental steps. First, consider the criteria you’ll use to identify potential leaders. Second, customize a development program based on their specific needs. And third, create an environment to foster continuous learning. For this article, we’ll focus on the first step—identifying potential leaders.

Identifying Future Leaders
Organizations select the wrong manager 80 percent of the time, according to Gallup. Why is that? Most people are promoted into positions of authority based on their current job performance instead of their future potential and ability to lead others.

Bad idea. Identifying future leaders is more nuanced and requires a more discriminating approach.

•    Start with a Skills Benchmark: Before identifying potential leadership talent, you need to know what you are looking for. You accomplish this by building a competency model, which is a collection of competencies that define successful performance in a particular role and work setting. They are the foundation for crucial human resource functions such as recruitment and hiring, promotion and succession planning, training and development, and performance management. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, competency models are widely used in business for defining and assessing competencies within organizations in both hard and soft skills.

Organizations need to identify what are key characteristics of a leader for their organization. Then conducting individual skills assessments on leadership prospects not only identifies readiness for leadership development but also helps identify specific areas of developmental need to customize training programs.

•    Consider Leadership at All Levels: There is a common misconception that leadership resides only at the top. That is not true. Leadership capability exists at all levels of the organization and can be cultivated equally.

There are aspiring leaders emerging leaders, mid-level leaders, leaders of leaders and executive leaders. Where should you expend your developmental effort? Look for people with the right attitude. In other words, is their personal belief system geared toward personal growth? Be sure they hold themselves accountable in all aspect of their jobs and know how to overcome failure. Personal and professional growth is not easy and requires persistence and determination. And finally, assess their level of engagement in understanding the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.

Those employees who think and act like leaders, regardless of their title, are leaders. It is your job to identify them.

•    Assess Behavioral Traits: Past behavior is the greatest indicator of future behavior. This is an important, and sometimes elusive, aspect of identifying leadership talent. It goes deeper than the skills assessment, which is a static evaluation of how people are performing today. You also want to be able to understand an individual’s core behavioral traits, which will indicate how a person is most likely to handle situations in the future. Additionally, there are personal factors that influence them in key, and challenging, leadership moments.

These factors and traits can be successfully identified through online assessment tools that take out all the guesswork, such as DISC style, core behavior and personality assessments. It’s an effective way of learning how people are motivated and if they fit your formula for successful leadership.

•    Finding the Right Mindset: The most successful leaders recognize the value in understanding people as a function of what is best for the organization as a whole. This understanding is known as emotional intelligence, which is an important element in determining a leader’s ability to effectively lead others and perform in stressful situations. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and influence those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence (EI) know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean and how these emotions can affect other people.

Identifying people with the right level of EI can be accomplished by evaluating how well they work with others, how effective they are at resolving conflict, how they demonstrate empathy for others’ needs and their ability to build trusting business relationships.

Set Them Up for Success
Your organizational chart in five years could be different from what it is today. While your company vision and mission can remain mostly unchanged over time, your business demands and strategies can change dramatically. That is why you must consider near term and long term equally when evaluating future leaders.

Effective organizations develop a concise plan that looks at leadership succession well into the future. Succession planning is a systematic effort and process of identifying and developing candidates for key leadership and professional positions over time to ensure the continuity of management and leadership in an organization.

Leadership development is not an event; it is a journey. Preparing your employees for any type of professional development program requires that you set clear expectations for their participation but, more importantly, help them understand how their professional growth is key to their future success.

You may have spent considerable time selecting your leadership development candidates, but are they personally ready and confident to take on new expectations and responsibility? This can be learned by talking with them, asking the right questions and allowing them to share how they feel about themselves, their future and their aspirations. They need to be engaged at an emotional level, professional level and overall business level.

David Liddell is CEO of SKYE Business Solutions in Merrimack, providing leaders with development and consulting services. He can be reached at 603-881-9999.


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