There are two ways to increase the leadership capability in a business. Build it by developing people from within the organization into leaders who can take the business forward, or buy it by recruiting established leaders from other businesses. Both can have advantages and drawbacks. What is important is that you select your leadership strategy on purpose, not have it decided for you because you didn’t prepare well.
I came across a blog post recently that focused on the merits of building internal leadership capability and I think the author, Kyle Lagunas, an HR Analyst at Software Advice, has some great points. Developing talent internally that can lead people, teams, and the enterprise is often regarded as the most effective long-term strategy. You can read his post here.
What’s critical though is not just whether you build or buy leaders, but that you pick a core leadership strategy and then execute it well. There are times, especially early in a business life cycle, that buying is a necessary component. What happens more often is that businesses have no plan in place to build and are forced to buy talent out of necessity, not as part of a strategy. This is expensive, has a much lower success rate, and often results in a mismatch and the need to do it all over again.
Most businesses use a combination of building and buying, and there are some critical questions to ask as you create a leadership talent pipeline for your organization that secures the future and achieves lasting success.
If you are buying leadership talent:
What kind of mindset do leaders need to fit with our culture?
Most leadership flameouts happen not because people don’t have the skills to execute the job but because their mindset causes them to execute in a way that doesn’t work in a particular culture. Is your culture slow moving and hierarchical or fast paced and urgent, tolerant of new ideas or quick to crush change agents? If you hire contrary to the culture you have, expect a low success rate.
How do we support them once they show up here?
Far too many organizations adopt the sink or swim mentality for new leaders. Those in charge rationalize that if the new leaders are good enough, they will survive and figure out how to be successful here. If you want them to merely survive, that’s fine, but if you want them to thrive, you need to put a support process in place that allows them to focus on results and not waste energy and time on the trial and error method of learning the ropes. Another critical reason to support them is that great leaders get to choose where they work and many of them prefer to work in an organization that supports their people. So even if they do thrive on their own, in time, they may soon choose to thrive elsewhere.
If you are building leadership talent:
How do we select those to invest in?
Part of internal talent development is selection, and candidly, it’s where many businesses go awry. Their selection process is organized around who the boss likes or who has been great lately rather than a consistent, methodical approach to identifying leadership talent. Picking the wrong people is expensive and can cause the loss of good employees who may have been pushed too far too fast or are highly capable but never given an opportunity.
How do we invest in our future leaders?
Is it a sporadic “send them to a workshop” kind of approach or a well designed developmental process? Our future leaders are going to determine everything about our business. We either invest in their development or we watch them leave our organization, or worse, stay and not reach their potential. In either case the business achieves much less than it could have.
The capability of our leaders represents the best of what our organization could become. We can buy them or build them, or both. But we should plan our approach and put the processes in place to make that plan happen. Don’t just hope your leaders evolve, create a strategy that causes success by putting the right leaders in place in your business. Very few things contribute more to your success.
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