How Do Companies Find Future Leaders?
When a company hires someone, they are hiring the whole person. That includes current skill set and experience, potential for growth, and desire to realize their potential. We want to hire leaders, and correctly coach teammates to reach their full potential. So how do we find future leaders? And how do we develop them?
First, there are several qualities that companies can search for during the interview process. The ability to mentor and develop direct reports is important for forming and retaining strong, productive teams. A passion towards encouraging upward mobility, a strong personal code of ethics, and the ability to trust your team enough to delegate effectively will build team camaraderie and respect. Finally, a leader should exhibit a succinct and respectful communication style, with open dialogue both upward and downward as well as across teams.
Companies can take several steps to identify employees with high potential that could be fast-tracked to leadership roles. In most flat organizations, there is no set of procedures and thus leaders grow organically. This means that employees create their career trajectory by identifying opportunities where they can contribute or stretch themselves to impact the organization in a larger and more meaningful way. In a sense, leaders self select. For larger organizations, there may be formal procedures in place, and in these cases, we encourage the people we place to have an open discussion with their leader about their own performance goals but also discuss what those procedures are and how they can achieve those goals for the upward mobility they are seeking.
After identifying potential leadership talent, the next step is to assign stretch goals to high potential employees. In flat organizations, many times an employee who has expressed interest in growth opportunities is selected to lead a variety of projects. The purpose of this is to showcase their abilities to liaise with all different facets of the organization and prove they can bring projects to fruition by influence rather than title. For instance, at one company I worked with for a few years, employees who expressed interest in upward mobility were given projects where they were asked to manage matrix style project teams. This meant that the employee did not have a title, nor have direct reports that were required to listen to them, but still had to find a way to influence without authority. Gaining the trust of peers in cross disciplines was a stretch goal and a proven example of what their daily life may look like if they were promoted.
This type of leadership development takes a lot of effort, structure, and time. However, an investment in attracting and retaining the right leadership is important for a company to maintain a competitive edge.