Career coach: Identifying potential leaders

Q I head learning and development in a mid-sized software company. The company recognises the need for great leaders to help its ambitious growth plans. People are usually promoted from within, so we have lots of technical geniuses, but no obvious ‘leaders of the future’. How can I quickly identify those with potential and then help them to learn the basics of leadership?

A Plan your course of action carefully, gathering your sponsors around you and gaining full buy-in from the business. You mention that the company has ambitious growth plans, so make sure you know what you want to achieve and by when. Agree key performance indicators, ‘hard’ business measures, such as profitability, sales and service quality, and ‘soft’ behavioural measures people will need. Then assess existing leadership capability.

Employee opinion surveys and leadership assessments are useful for benchmarking people against external best practice, and help to pinpoint trends, strengths and development areas.

What behaviours and competencies are you looking for? Establish a core set of clear, focused and simple competencies and, critically, what these mean in people’s day-to-day roles.

Create a robust 360-degree feedback tool that measures people against the new competencies.

Identify who will receive the development. High-performance leadership cultures require senior leaders to role-model new behaviours. Other key influencers may include people with the highest number of direct reports, or those identified as having the most potential.

Agree how to cascade leadership development. Remember it’s not just about skilling individuals and equipping them to lead, develop others and manage performance. The real success and returns create the opportunity for you to instigate fundamental leaps in attitude, mindset and behaviour deliver a dramatic shift in performance and results and create a high-performance leadership culture.

Make sure the learning and development interactions are practical and directly relevant to your business. If you are serious about creating the foundations for transformational leadership, coaching will be fundamental to maximising return on investment.

As you establish and sustain higher levels of leadership capability within your company, this must be integrated with your performance management, promotion, succession planning, remuneration and recruitment strategies.

Carole Gaskell, founder and chief executive, Full Potential Group

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