Obviously, a potential successor needs a different set of qualifications, experience and character traits than someone you’re predominantly hiring for a specific skill set.
The Qualities of Successful Leaders
Leadership consultancy Merryck & Co Americas recently shared a thought piece at Strategy+Business on the qualities of successful leaders.
Vision and Clarity = Inspiration. Leaders not only can handle complexity and rapid change, but are very good at creating simple narratives to help employees understand and embrace that complexity. The best leaders can tell their people why they are well positioned to address a challenge and also very good at focusing efforts on just three to four priorities. Then, they must be able to create a compelling strategy for how the team can reach the goal—the flag around which everyone gathers and uses as a touchpoint. Constant, relentless messaging around that strategy is the final key to inspirational leadership.
Enterprise-level Thinking. Leaders are capable of stepping out of their comfort zones and always thinking about the success of the entire business, not just departments, teams or individuals. A leader who can also focus the team on whole-enterprise goals will build a culture around collective success, not individual performance goals.
Strategy, Not Tactics. Teams guided to always put the strategy first—spending at least equal time on the why of goals as on the how—tend to be more successful more quickly. The keepers are leaders who can create those kinds of teams, and be very good at using individual skills and talents to boost that strategic focus..
Building Future Leaders. The best leaders have a trait rare in the business world—they focus on building and developing their team members more than on using the team to advance their own personal development. One way to spot this trait is to see who from the leader’s team has advanced to take on greater responsibilities. This record of mentoring is a key indicator of future success as an enterprise leader. Another indicator is employee retention; great leaders don’t bleed talent. Also, mentor/leaders are very good at promoting people who bring a diversity of opinions and approaches, as well as being from non-traditional groups. They welcome different perspectives and promote those people to senior leaders. Leaders who don’t reflect this openness to diversity at a lower management level are unlikely to become diversity champions if given greater responsibility.
Grow Your Own Successor
In capsule, the best leaders always put the success of the enterprise first—everything they do supports that focus. Hiring such a leader from outside the agency seems unlikely. The Merryck research team notes that such leaders seldom magically appear when you need them. It is certainly difficult to spot these traits in people outside of your agency. The answer is to train and develop your own leaders. That means, if your agency needs a strong future leader, current leadership needs to identify people who have potential, and help them to develop the traits described above. (This assumes that the agency’s current leaders are already great leaders themselves.)
It also pays to recall that many millennial employees have high expectations for career growth and advancement opportunities. Lacking professional development, especially with regard to developing leadership skills, is a prime reason why many younger workers decide to go searching for their next job.
Consider how good you are at being an enterprise wide, strategically-focused leader. Work hard to adopt and model these traits. As you become a stronger leader, you can use your own behaviors and practices to develop future leaders. It’s the cycle of agency life, and one we know you can practice.
See also: How’s Your Leadership Growing?