I have long believed that one of the key measures for any senior manager should be whether s/he is a net creator of talent for their organisation. It is also critical that this focus is not only to build the skills of people in their own area of responsibility, but to also help to build leadership talent that can be deployed across the divisional boundaries.

I believe that it is not enough for companies to just have a formalised succession planning process, as there also needs to be a culture in the company of building leaders, as I believe that great leaders will understand and have a focus on ensuring that “leadership” is more than just a topic for an intellectual discussion, and will make it a priority to build leadership at all levels.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

While I do believe in formalised succession planning in all companies and at all levels, unfortunately I have most often found that these tend to be a “tick in the box” exercise rather than a serious attempt to recognise and develop real talent. In my own experience I have found that the majority of promotions tend to have little to do with what has been documented, reviewed and accepted as being the planned succession strategies. For example, one company where I worked, despite having a widely implemented and much trumpeted succession planning process which went all the way to the executive board, would still fill almost 70% of vacant management roles from external candidates. Not only does this disillusion and disengage existing staff about the possibilities for their own promotion opportunities, it also disrupts any real attempts to build long term, sustainable leadership capabilities.

The Hays Group’s 8th “Best Companies for Leadership” (BCL) survey of 18,000 individuals from 2200 companies world-wide found that “… we have learned from studying the BCL over the past eight years that success is a long-term game based on three core leadership habits: investing in identifying and growing leaders at all levels, focusing and rewarding organisational efficiency and, at the same time, building business agility to respond to new markets and environments” and “The world’s best companies for leadership (BCL) are purposeful and strategic in developing, enabling and motivating leaders throughout the organisation.”

I feel that the critical element needed is that building leaders needs to be company-wide, as Leadership is not reserved just for senior executives, but needs to be cultivated in all areas of the organisation and at all levels. It is important for long-term sustainable success that companies are able to define the roles that are critical to their future, and then systematically identify the individuals that can develop the required leadership skills to fill them. Most companies talk about this, but I have seen few that really make it part of their core priorities. Companies that do understand this work hard to empower their employees to take leadership roles in every area of the business, and particularly in regards to innovation and customer relationships, whether they are in management roles or not.

Author: Wolfgang Hägele; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Wolfgang Hägele; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

It means that there has to be serious investment of time, energy and continuous focus placed on developing current and future leaders in the business, and that this has to be driven from the top down through the entire organisation, and not just relegated to being an HR initiative, as it appears to be implemented in most companies. It also means that succession planning needs to be real rather than just a “put the names in the boxes” exercise. This will not only enable the recognition of those with potential and those for development, but will also point out the gaps that exist in the people, and the missing skills that need to be developed because they are needed to build sustainable business success.

The issue is that building a leadership culture needs more than the traditional management training, assignments and mentoring, that one would normally associate with executive development. It needs the creation of a “leadership mindset” that allows people the freedom and support to work without fear of failure, and the ability for people to take leadership roles as subject-matter experts rather than just staying within structured organisational management reporting lines. It really needs a belief in the fact that if you give people the opportunity to do great things, then they will strive to do great things.

The dictionary defines leadership as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”, which doesn’t limit it to executives, but must by definition also include thought leaders and key individual contributors to whom people look to in the organisation for influence and direction. The skills that were once seen as being required mainly for senior leadership, such as emotional intelligence and finely honed analytical thinking, are now critical at every level and in most roles in an organisation.

As so ably put by American political activist Ralph Nader “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders not more followers”.

Author: Don LaVange (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wickenden/); CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Don LaVange (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wickenden/); CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons



  1. Adriana says:

    Loved it! Thank you! Adriana

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