Who will lead your organisation in five years’ time?

Even if your organisation has strong leadership today, you can’t assume it will still be there tomorrow. Succession risk in the C-suite is a real issue and organisations must have a strategy in place to ensure those with the potential to step-up to the executive level are identified and nurtured.

Many people confuse high potential with high performance. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, studies show that only one in six high performance employees display characteristics and behaviour that would indicate high potential. Every high-performing sales director, for instance, will not necessarily convert into a vice president of sales. Similarly, every shrewd and sharp financial director will not make a good CFO.

The qualities and attributes for stepping up to an executive leadership position cluster around three critical areas: leading a business; leading people; and leading performance. Those with skills related to the latter two areas may well excel in their careers and be able to motivate people and drive improvements in performance. To be able to cut it at the executive level, however, you need to be able to lead a business, apply complex and strategic thinking, be tolerant of isolation and resilient to external pressures. Leaders also need an inherent optimism and high levels of emotional intelligence.

Identifying these attributes in people is not always easy. Some of the traditional leadership assessment methods and performance management tools and techniques can be applied but it also requires deeper exploration. Organisations need to make use of some of the more advanced ways of examining behaviour and judgment such as situational testing and predictive analytics. Many organisations are still at the early days of using Big Data and analytics in the talent space but there is an increasing demand for technology that can bring increased objectivity to the field of leadership development.

In addition, the assessment and measurement of step-up potential needs to be aligned with the needs of the business and market conditions not just today but in the future. The VUCA world considerably adds to this challenge but this prevailing volatile, uncertain, complex ambiguous environment must be taken into account when developing tomorrow’s leaders.

Business leaders responsible for the top tier talent pipeline also need to be alert to some of the derailing personality traits that can be damaging to an organisation if they don’t come to light until someone is in a leadership position. In their co-authored book Why CEOs Fail, David Dolitch and Peter Cairo identify traits that can have a negative impact including: arrogance; aloofness; eagerness to please; excessive caution; habitual distrust; melodrama; perfectionism; and volatility. Having identified them, it is down to the organisation to decide whether these derailers can be treated or whether they are fatal flaws.

So who will lead the company in five years’ time? It’s a tough question for many organisations but one they need to start finding answers for much sooner rather than later.

A white paper – Stepping up to the next executive level is also available.  If you leave a comment requesting it, I’ll happily make contact with you.


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