Executive Excellence – Shaping Emerging Leaders as Productivity Resources

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” — Peter Drucker, Austrian management consultant and social ecologist.

“Leadership and learning are indispensible to each other.” — John F. Kennedy, 35th U.S. President.


“Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.” — H. Jackson Brown, Jr., American author.


Succession planning—i.e., providing for future leadership—is crucial to any organization’s long-term success. Essentially, this process boils down to “buy or build.” Either the organization hires proven leadership from outside as needed (often at the expense of loyalty), or it cultivates new leadership from the ground up.

The second option usually provides greater productive advantages than the first, though identifying and grooming emerging leaders does require considerable effort and planning. Ideally, the sequence begins with hiring only high potential candidates, though this practice can only provide a field of candidates from which to choose. They require further assessment later on, once they’ve had sufficient time to establish themselves, prove their workplace productivity, and make their talents known.

Intuition plays a part here, but otherwise such evaluation requires a standardized measurement system applied as evenhandedly as possible. If the tasks falls to you and no such system already exists, then adopt a scale based on common criteria for accomplishment and behavior, and codify it with simple, straightforward documentation. While no universal standard exists for all enterprises, keep the criteria consistent with your organization’s needs and values.

Assessing a leadership candidate also requires validation of their performance and value with a wide range of stakeholders: peers, partners, supervisors, even end-users. 360-degree performance surveys are often helpful here, as do qualitative interviews.

As a leader, ask yourself: does this person inspire trust and confidence in the people he or she works with and serves? If you aspire to be a leader, ask the same of yourself.

Notable strengths of emerging leaders include:

• Credibility
• Teachability
• Flexibility
• Self-control
• Self-discipline
• People skills
• Delegation skills
• Decision-making ability
• Forward-thinking capability
• A solid understanding of the big picture
• A reputation for delivering strong results
• Influence with peers
• Initiative
• The ability to motivate others
• Competencies specific to the position

A potential leader may not possess every one of these characteristics, but they need to possess most of them; and if they lack teachability—i.e., an obvious willingness and ability to learn—then either find an efficient way to develop the trait in them, or strike them from your list. Otherwise, they may ultimately cause more trouble than they’re worth. The ideal proto-leader must be moldable, so you can help them reach their maximum potential and fit into the leadership roles you foresee for them. Take care not to constrain them too far, of course; as I’ve noted above, they’ll need some flexibility, if only to help them deal with the dynamic business environment.

A word of caution here: don’t confuse high-performing individuals with high-potential individuals. Yes, high performers consistently offer a high return on investment; but as valuable as they are, they don’t always represent leadership timber. True high-potential workers contribute not just to the bottom line but to the organization as a whole. They assume greater responsibility with minimal or no prodding, respond well to training, understand and embrace organizational values, and think strategically in the long term.

Too often, succession planning receives consideration only when the need arises—though by then, the opportunity to make a reasoned decision has often passed. As a result, transition proves shaky at best. But in this fast-paced world, any organization that experiences a leadership crisis, no matter how brief, risks going the way of the dinosaur. Darwinian factors apply to business as well as biology, where the chief rule is “adapt or die.”

Smart organizations:

• Create a succession plan for each leadership position, from the humblest on up.
• Hire for talent, not just to fill a need.
• Provide opportunities for emerging leaders to make themselves known.
• Implement training opportunities that help emerging leaders hone their abilities.

At a leadership level, effective succession planning requires a clear eye, a delicate hand, and a willingness to act in whatever fashion best balances integrity with organizational needs. If you’re an ambitious worker, then make yourself available and obvious as an emerging leader, and work with current leadership to demonstrate your worth. Stretch yourself, and apply the effort necessary to develop as many of the above-listed leadership strengths as you can.



  1. […] basis; on the other, you have to set strategic priorities and plan for the future. For those at the executive leadership level, the stakes become especially high. Let’s look at a few points to help you make your […]

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