The November-December 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review has an interesting article about how to launch successful leaders, given that less than a quarter of executives at organizations that have corporate leadership development programs thing they're effective. Much of the article reflects pure common sense but it is a good read because of the structured process it offers in assessing and developing leaders.
It identifies 5 predictors for success: motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement and determination, advises to map people's potential to the competencies required in various roles (this also requires top management to determine the most important competencies for leadership roles), and give emerging leaders the opportunities and coaching they need to strengthen the critical competencies.
Nothing in this is earth-shattering, but the details of the approach are worth noting. The authors, all at the global executive search firm Egon Zehnder, evaluate executives on their mastery of eight leadership competencies:
- results orientation
- strategic orientation
- collaboration and influence
- team leadership
- developing organizational capabilities
- change leadership
- market understanding
While the evaluation is made on a scale from 1 to 7, they advise against the unrealistic expectation of looking for future leaders who would score high across all dimensions. They state: "C-level positions typically require a rating of at least 4 in the competencies critical for those roles, and CEO positions a rating of at least 5." In fact, "in a study of more than 5,000 executives at 47 companies [they] conducted with McKinsey, we found that only 1% had an average proficiency score of 6 or better, and just 11% had an average score of 5."
They give examples of how two very different candidates for the CEO job were assessed and given opportunities for growth in a trial year while the current CEO agreed to postpone his departure by one year (it will come as no surprise that the candidate with the highest potential for growth and slightly lower level of competence before the trial year ended up with the job, and did superbly in it). The authors also provide specific kinds of stretch assignments to develop competencies, and include a side bar about capturing the female advantage. They said that in their global database of executives' potential and competence, women's score trailed men's in five of the competencies, with differences particularly large in strategic orientation and market understanding, but "scored higher than men on three of the four hallmarks of potential - curiosity, engagement and determination - while men have a slightly stronger level of insight." They conclude that "women are typically not given the roles and responsibilities they need to hone critical competencies." Hopefully their model provides a quantitative framework to identify and remedy this deficiency.
The one criticism I had of the article was that it is focused on CEOs and perhaps C-suite executives, due to the nature of the authors' expertise. While the core competencies are important at the C-suite level, they take on more importance at different stages of an employee's career, and I would have wanted to know more about the trajectories of successful leaders. For instance, if you don't exhibit a talent for inclusiveness from the start, will you ever be able to successfully develop this skill or will you only ever pay lip service to the need for diverse points of view? When in a career does it become important to exhibit market understanding or change leadership? In which order should young employees seek to develop those competencies. Perhaps it will be the basis for another HBR article.