Seeking the Top 10%: Part 2

Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

By Charles Waldo

“Find me someone who gets things done; someone with the ‘Right Stuff.’”

I started my article in the last issue of the HCBM with the quote above.  Developing and keeping executives – or any employee for that matter – with the “right stuff” is a significant challenge and of critical importance to the organization.   Studies show that only about 10% of any typical workforce can be objectively classified as “major league players.” No organization will have all A+ employees but they are such major contributors and make such big differences that they’ve got to be both groomed for larger jobs and protected from would-be raiders. Note that what follows holds true for smaller as well as larger organizations with Hamilton County fortunate to have both types.


Qualities of “High Flyers”

The last issue identified these qualities from three management development authorities.  Here’s a quick review of the findings from executive recruiters James Citrin and Richard Smith, of Spencer Stuart & Associates. Those with long, extraordinary careers 1) know how value is created in the workplace and translate that knowledge into action; 2) They practice benevolent leadership. They give, then get, trust and loyalty, in that order;  3) They find ways to overcome the “permission paradox”  -- getting the OK to take on assignments for which they are not well prepared, then finding ways to succeed;   4)  They ruthlessly allocate their time and energy using the 80/20 principle (aka “Pareto’s Law”) – applying most of their time and energy (the 80%) to the relatively few (the 20%) projects or tasks from which they get the biggest bangs for their bucks and make the most positive differences; and 5) They find the right job and employer fit for their strengths,  passions, and people. Sometimes this means joining a new organization or starting their own.

Nature or Nurture?

You might know of a child who, from an early age, demonstrated the inner drive and psychological wherewithal to be a leader wherever she lighted.   The so-called “born leader.”  I’ve known twins and close-to-the-same-age siblings, raised by the same parents in more or less the same home situation, whose behaviors, preferences, and abilities were decidedly different from each other right from the beginning.  How about you?

Other persons might not show any signs of leadership and motivation abilities for a number of years, perhaps into their thirties or later when, wham!, a stimulating, appealing situation presents itself and they become different people,  diving into the opportunity with passion and vigor. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes the passion is there but not the ability.  Both factors are needed.

What about formal education?

As a prof for 31 years I’ve observed that most students only begin to develop or acquire many of the tools of the “High Flyer” in college. Persons with high levels of the “Right Stuff” are loaded with Emotional Intelligence but may be just average in Intellectual Intelligence.   Getting a strong, formal education in an area of high interest is essential as beginning professionals need to know and be able to use the “tools of their trade.”  For example, young accountants need to know the fundamental accounting rules and practices inside and out. But, if they show signs of promotability as a member of a client serving team, they might be assigned to head up a small team. Then leadership abilities begin to take front stage…..usually a topic their college education probably only touched on, much less provided practice with coaching.

What about masters degrees, company sponsored workshops, and other professional seminars and courses?  I doubt anyone would argue against the potential value of such developmental offerings. But no surveys I’ve seen of “High Flyers” gave significant value to such endeavors. I taught many MBA classes for adults at Anderson University and often talked to grads about what they most valued from their two or three years of night school with us.     Most AU MBA’s went through the program as a cohort, with the same 25 or so adult classmates, who came from a wide variety of undergraduate schools and programs, employers, types of positions,  ages,  races, nationalities,  and so on. Different perspectives, motivations, ways of tackling problems, and building contact networks were high on grads’ “valued most” list. They said they enjoyed and profited from most of their ten – twelve courses (Intellectual Intelligence) but valued the Emotional Intelligence aspects of the program much more. They did say that the more realistic and simulating the course was to the “real world,” the higher its value to them.

What counts most?

You probably already know the answer: “Trial by Fire.”  Taking on a tough, unfamiliar problem. Learning through experiences, even negative ones. Leadership is all about motivating, positioning, guiding, rewarding, and so on – PEOPLE issues. You can read all the best books on Leadership and Management – not a bad idea if you have the time --but getting onto the “playing fields of life” is quite a different story. Failures take place in the real world, unlike in books.  Many people learn more from their failures or rejections than successes; others get destroyed. “Stepping up” is risky business.

So ask yourself about VERY important lessons of life you learned.  How?  Experience or books and courses?  Successes or setbacks?

In the work world, leadership learning experiences can take many forms from heading up a new product or process development team; to building a new sales team; to taking over the helm of a sagging production facility; to going out of state or out of country for a couple of years into an unfamiliar environment. Sometimes the individual will see the opportunity and volunteer or campaign for the chance to tackle it. Other times an astute boss or mentor will see the potential benefits of the assignment and urge you towards it.

Providing good learning experiences accompanied by judicious coaching and mentoring is a key responsibility of every boss… which many do not do well. It’s a lot more than simply describing the problem and telling the would-be solver to “Just go fix it and don’t come back until it is.” Yet the boss can’t hover over the would be leader like a mother duck over her ducklings. It’s a delicate balance between too much guidance and just enough to keep a disaster from happening.

More Resources

One of the best books I’ve found on developing leaders with the “right stuff” is High Flyers: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders by Dr. Morgan McCall, formerly of The Center for Creative Leadership and the University of Southern Californian.  The CCL also has many other excellent books on developing people through experiences.  Check their Website.  Another authority on practical leadership is the Rev. Dr. John Maxwell who has a wide assortment of his writings on his Website plus works by other writers and consultants.  He also has some insightful and humorous YouTube videos.  There are many other sources.

One last tip: As you move through leading a team on a successful endeavor, keep notes of what went right and wrong; strategies used to keep the project moving, surprises, other key players, what you learned, etc. If you demonstrate the “Right Stuff,” you might just be having interviews with recruiters who might ask: “Tell me about a recent project you headed that went right (or wrong). How did you tackle it? What went right and wrong? How did you see your role? What did you learn from this experience?  What would you do differently or keep the same?  Why?”  Be ready.

 “Tell me and I’ll forget.  Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”   (Chinese proverb)