It would be nice if we could identify our high-potential employees (Hi-Pos) and let them grow naturally into the organization’s future leaders. If we are lucky, we may have one or a few Hi-Pos who are such natural leaders that we just have to sit back and watch them grow. But for most Hi-Pos, we need to nurture them — we have to feed our leadership pipeline to accelerate their growth. Most of the your Hi-Po group will need both education and the opportunity to apply what they have learned. The model I present in my book, Feedeing Your Leadership Pipeline, has four main sectors:
1. Formal education sessions
2. Action learning projects tied to each education session
3. 360 reviews and individual development plans
4. Mentoring an coaching
In this blog, we’ll focus on the Education Sessions. Later posts will cover the other three sectors.
I have seen too many organizations send a Hi-Po to an expensive external program (and there are many excellent leadership programs available in the market), only to be disappointed when the person returns from the program and nothing seems to change. TRAINING ON LEADERSHIP SKILLS ALONE DOES NOT A LEADER MAKE! Nor can attendance at a single program, no matter how good it may be,
magically transform someone into an effective leader. To become a leader requires more than just leadership skills.
Becoming a leader requires that the Hi-Po develop in three areas:
I. Leadership Skills
II. Business Acumen
III. Execution Skills
As mentioned, there are many excellent leadership skills programs available in the market, from universities, institutes, and consultants. (In Part 2-C of this blog, we will discuss how to select an appropriate program for your organization’s Hi-Pos.) But along with leadership skills, leaders need to develop their business acumen, for without an understanding of the organization’s business, leaders will have great difficulty selecting a target toward which to lead the organization. The third element is execution skills, because the leader must be able to develop the plan for how to get from the current state of the organization to the goal being set.
Let me spend a little more time here on these last two areas (more detail and a lengthier explanation can be found in my book). Let’s start with business acumen…
Employees generally start working for an organization because of their knowledge and skills related to one aspect of the organization’s business. This may be as an accountant, a sales rep, an engineer, a marketing programs person, etc. For each step up the career ladder a person takes, his or her view must broaden. For example, I once worked in a marketing group, where the newly-appointed director of the group came from many years working in marketing communications. As Abraham Maslow once said, “if your only tool is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.” Because his expertise was in marketing communications, he spent most of this time focused on that part of the marketing group’s work — because that was where he felt the most comfortable. In fact, in his first two years as director, he went through three marketing communications managers, because none of them met his standards of excellence. In the meantime, the other parts of the marketing organization (field programs, marketing strategy, etc.) suffered from his inattention. I call this “functional myopia,” where you are so focused on your small part of the business that you have little perspective on the many other aspects of the business that make the organization whole.
The higher one rises in the organization, the greater problems functional myopia creates, and the greater the need to develop business acumen. For example, if you find yourself with an extra $100,000 in the marketing budget, where is that money best spent? As a business unit manager, should you focus your investments in new product development, improving the manufacturing process, marketing, or employee training? Without business acumen, these types of questions are impossible to answer.
The third area of development needed by Hi-Pos is execution skills.” In many companies for which I have worked as an employee or as a consultant, the company’s leadership team has declared a goal of increasing revenue by, let’s say, 10% in the next fiscal year, where the company has shown steady growth of 3% to 4% over the past several years. And in most of these companies, employees have been given no guidance or direction on how the company is to accomplish that goal. When you continuously set ambitious goals and provide no guidance on what people must do differently to achieve those goals, all you do is frustrate employees (especially if their bonuses are dependent on the company reaching its goals). Leaders need execution skills in order to plan how to accomplish the goals they set.
In my next blog post, I will focus on how the four elements of the leadership development program model can help develop all three areas: leadership skills, business acumen, and execution skills.