The Priority of Potential — Spotting Talent for our Organizations

Potential!, Miles Goodhew, Flickr

Photo Credit: Potential!, by Miles Goodhew, Flickr

In a previous post I highlighted 8 Core Leadership Abilities. In the same HBR article, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz engages the important theme of how to spot talent in the 21st century.

A History of Talent Searching

Over the centuries and years, diverse approaches have emerged for identifying leadership and managerial talent. Fernández-Aráoz identifies this progression around four movements:

Focus on Physical Attributes — Those who were fittest, healthiest, and strongest.

Focus on Intelligence and Experience — Those who were the most intelligent, most experienced, and those with the best past performance.

Focus on Testing for Competencies— Those who possess the right set of characteristics and skills associated with predicted job performance.

Focus on Potential  — Those who are ready to engage the VUCA environment of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

Why Potential

In the VUCA world of increased volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, there are new demands on prospective talent. Fernández-Aráoz discusses the factors of globalization, demographic shifts, and challenges to the talent development pipeline. The talent development pipeline is significantly stretched due to increased competition in this changing environment of the 21st century. These factors are forcing organizations to focus on identifying potential (not just track-records of success), and then developing and retaining this talent in the years ahead.

What to Look for When Looking for Potential

So, how is potential spotted? What qualities are the hallmarks of such potential? Fernández-Aráoz identifies the following hallmarks for spotting talent and potential in the 21st century:

Motivation — “…a fierce commitment to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals.”

Curiosity — “…a penchant for seeking out new experiences, knowledge, and candid feedback and an openness to learning and change.”

Insight — “…the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities.”

Engagement — “…a knack for using emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people.”

Determination — “…the wherewithal to fight for difficult goals despite challenges and to bounce back from adversity.”

How to Develop those with Potential

Because spotting potential is quickly becoming the new norm, developing this potential talent in our organizations is becoming the highest priority. How are motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination built upon so that individuals with potential translate into individuals with performance?

Fernández-Aráoz identifies the priority of stretch development. On this point Fernández-Aráoz notes, “when it comes to developing executives for future leadership assignments, we’re constantly striving to find the optimal level of discomfort in the next role or project, because that’s where the most learning happens.” Finding stretching assignments, where those with potential don’t immediately have all the answers, is one of the chief pathways in moving individuals from potential to performance.

______________________________

How are you identifying potential around you? How are you developing this potential into performance?

Why I Blog: Fostering Healthy Leadership

Be the Change, Feggy Art, Flickr

Photo Credit: Be the Change, Feggy Art, Flickr

“Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.”
– James MacGregor Burns

James MacGregor Burns’ quote resonates with most of our experiences. We see leadership occurring all around us, but rarely take time to reflect in a systematic way on what makes this leadership helpful or unhelpful—effective or ineffective. Further complicating our observations, at times we see people leading well who have no formal positions of leadership within our organizations, and at other times we see people in positions of leadership who really are not providing the necessary leadership direction for our organizations as we move into the future.

Lingering Questions

And so we come back to Burns’ comments: Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth. But must it be this way? Is leadership simply a mysterious reality? Is it something that we simply know when it is going well or poorly, but will never really understand what makes it work? Or might we be able to provide some basic descriptions of the form and shape of good, helpful, and effective leadership? Might we be able to get at some minimum factors that characterize both what helpful leaders and leadership look like?

Leadership Can Be Learned

Part of my vocational calling is providing thoughtful responses to such questions. I believe leadership can be described and studied. I believe it can be learned. Not every person is wired to be a capital “L” Leader. However, just about everyone embedded in an organization, group, or family can grow in and learn how to positively influence and guide the people around them.

This is the heart behind why I’ve started blogging at purposeinleadership.com. Although I’ve been observing leaders in action most of my life, I’ve spent the last 15 years in focused study on the topic through various degree programs, organizational roles, research agendas, and teaching opportunities. I want to start sharing some of these lessons learned with a wider audience.

A Passion for Ridding the World of Bad Leadership

Harvard Business Review’s editorial mission is “to rid the world of bad management.” I have a similar passion in the area of leadership. Though I won’t be able to personally rid the world of bad leadership, I’d love to make a dent in this ambitious agenda. I want to spread a message…

  • …that leadership is more about serving others than being served,
  • …that people are the priority even in profit-driven sectors,
  • …that leaders need to create organizations and societies that are not only productive, but also are fit for human beings,
  • …that purpose in leadership is of central importance,
  • …that leadership is vital in organizations that create value for those they serve,
  • …that people will endure great hardship and sacrifice when they believe in what they are doing and feel their work and leadership has meaning and purpose,
  • …that leaders have a God-given responsibility to care for the people they lead,
  • …that core leadership characteristics and behaviors can be described,
  • …that leadership is vital in working toward human flourishing in organizations and societies.

Thanks for Joining Me in this Pursuit

Although I don’t believe that everything rises or falls on leadership, I do believe that the pursuit of effective and healthy models of leadership is a first-order priority in our day.

Thanks for joining me on this journey toward good, helpful, and effective leadership. Our organizations and the people we serve as leaders deserve our very best!

8 Core Leadership Abilities

Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

Photo Credit: Follow the Leader, by Vinoth Chandar, Flickr

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz identifies 8 abilities that the best leaders possess. Here is the list, along with a brief description and summary of each item on the list.

  1. Strategic Orientation: The capacity to engage in broad, complex analytical and conceptual thinking.” The new realities surrounding organizations demand that leaders have a capacity to engage in strategic thinking in the face of complexity.  Are you thinking about your organizational realities through a strategic lens?
  2. Market Insight: A strong understanding of the market and how it affects the business.” Along with increased complexity, the world is more connected to our organizations than ever before. Are you paying attention to the environment surrounding your organization and how this environment will shape the way your organization goes about its work?
  3. Results Orientation: A commitment to demonstrably improving key business metrics.” Increases in complexity and connectivity in our world translate into increased competition. This increased competition necessitates that leaders pay attention to performance for the things that matter to your community. Are you measuring what matters most to your organization?
  4. Customer Impact: A passion for serving the customer.” In-grown organizations will struggle to thrive in the changing economy. Who do you serve as an organization? Do you have a passion for providing the best possible service for these individuals and communities?
  5. Collaboration and Influence: An ability to work effectively with peers or partners, including those not in the line of command.” Leadership in today’s organizations is not simply about individuals getting individual work accomplished. Complex problems require complex solutions that are often worked out in collaboration. Do you possess a collaborative orientation?
  6. Organizational Development: A drive to improve the company by attracting and developing top talent.” Finding, recruiting, and retaining top talent is a substantial need in the coming years. Factors such as globalization and demographic shifts are making this need more pronounced. How are you leading your organization in a path of intentional leadership development?
  7. Team Leadership: Success in focusing, aligning, and building effective groups.” As noted above related to collaboration, it is no longer about individuals accomplishing individual outcomes. Organizations today require effective groups or teams working together to accomplish increasingly complex outcomes. Are you developing your capacity as a team player?
  8. Change Leadership: The capacity to transform and align an organization around a new goal.” Our changing world translates into dynamic and changing organizations. How are you developing your change leadership capacity? As a community this will be essential as you lean into these organizational and environment transitions?

As the world around us changes, a capacity to adapt to new environments is critical. As you consider these 8 Core Leadership Abilities, what are your strengths? What are your growth edges? Are you committed both to developing yourself and those around you to meet the demands of leadership today?

Watershed Moments and Leadership Development

Just yesterday I passed a sign along the side of the road that caught my attention.

photo(1)

Photo Credit: Justin A Irving, purposeinleadership.com

The sign indicated a geographic point of separation between the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds in Colorado. Watershed in this sense of the word points us to where water will drain from these mountain tributaries.

Watershed Moments

While this is a literal watershed place, leaders are often faced with figurative watershed moments in their development as leaders. Dictionaries define this sense of watershed in the following manner:

…a time when an important change happens

…a crucial dividing point, line, or factor:  turning point

…a critical turning point in time where everything changes that will never be the same as before

Watershed Moments and the Level 5 Leader

Leadership theorists point to related concepts as they describe how leaders develop. Jim Collins talks about events such as a battle with cancer, changed war orders, or religious conversion as creating a watershed moment for developing “Level 5 Leaders.” Collins explains that such experiences allow the level 5 seed to sprout in their lives. Robert Clinton engages integrity checks developing leaders face in his discussion of leadership emergence theory. These integrity checks are often watershed moments, shaping and defining the character of the developing leader.

Watershed Moments and the Twice-Born Leader

Abraham Zaleznik puts forward what he calls “twice-born” leaders in a 2004 HBR article. Zaleznik points to “once-born” and “twice-born” personalities, and argues that it is twice-born personalities who tend to be leaders. According to Zaleznik, while “once-born” individuals have fairly straightforward and relatively peaceful experiences in adjusting to life, “twice-born” individuals often do not having an easy time. Their lives and upbringings were often marked by continual struggle to attain some sense of order, and this struggle created “twice-born” occasions to grow as leaders.

Watershed Moments and You

If you look around at leaders we generally respect, they are often leaders who have faced watershed and challenging moments in their lives. Consider Abraham Lincoln’s overcoming of failure before leading the US through its historic watershed season. Consider Nelson Madela’s time on Robben Island. Consider Martin Luther King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.”

Although the experience of difficult circumstances is not something we wish upon ourselves, these circumstances often define watershed moments in our own leadership development journey.

  • How will we face them?
  • How will we face opposition?
  • How will we face failure?
  • How will we face an opportunity to “get away with something”?
  • How will face physical pain such as a life-transforming accident or a battle with cancer?
  • How will we face the loss of a job or position?

Will we face our challenges as watershed moments? Embrace your challenges in life and leadership as opportunities to develop your character, courage, and conviction.
___________________________________

As you think through your own leadership journey, what have been your watershed moments in life and leadership development?