As businesses grow and develop over time, inevitable change reduces the ranks of proven leaders; they leave, retire, are struck randomly by lightning. One way or another, a certainty of business is that you will find yourself replacing leaders.
What is your plan for replacing them and insuring replacements are good enough to allow your enterprise to continue to grow and prosper and to weather bad times?
The following outline, adapted to your own needs and values, will allow you to design a plan to identify potential future leaders and to develop their potential into excellence.
- Identify what’s important. Most executives think they know leadership potential when they see it, but are hard pressed to define its characteristics. Use a combination of assessments to bank information about your people, including your current leadership. Measure the characteristics important in the way they think, how they act and what their interests are.Those characteristics are not easily changed and you probably will not have the resources to develop someone who lacks a key characteristic. You need to know what you have to work with in your existing pool and whether you must look outside to find potential leaders for tomorrow. Measure their skills, too. Using a 360 degree assessment of leadership skills will tell you how much work you have to do, once you have a candidate for development.
- Build your “pool of possibles.” The time to bring future leaders on board is now, or sooner! When you’re thirsty, it’s terribly late to begin digging a well. Plan for long term succession to leadership positions. Assume some of your possibles will not get there, or will leave before the process is complete.
- Bring your potential leaders on board early. It may take years for an employee to thoroughly understand what makes your company and its culture tick. Provide opportunities for developing leaders to participate in high-level thinking and decision-making. Give them real chances to spread their wings and perhaps even fall and bump their heads. Learning to lead is not a linear process and a bit of pain is woven into the experience of most successful leaders.
- Pick them up when they fall. To learn from a fall, most of us need help understanding what happened and realize that we need not fear falling! Offer an internal mentor or a professional coach, or both, to help your leaders develop more quickly and surely. A good coach can cut years off the time it takes to learn to fly and make sure falls are not fatal, just a little painful.
- Reward them for developing. You’re asking exceptional people to work exceptionally hard and to accomplish exceptional goals. While most high potential leadership candidates will be internally motivated to excel, they will also expect to be rewarded for their efforts and their growth. Too many businesses have watched a potential star develop within, only to watch them depart for greener pastures, feeling unrewarded and unappreciated in their old home. Make sure they know where they are headed, but don’t save all the goodies for when they get there.
- It’s a process, not a place. While the current crop of leadership candidates is pursuing their development, continue looking for the next ones — you will never discover you have too many!