7 Qualities and 9 Questions to Help You Select Future Leaders

Below is a guest post from Maureen Metcalf, President of Metcalf & Associates, Inc. about choosing and developing future leaders wisely. Good read.

Consider the impact a poor leader has on your organization and the cost the business incurs when recovering from a poor leader.

I worked with a very bright leader and CEO of a midsized organization. He had a very high view of himself and he disagreed with any data to the contrary (including board level input). Over the short time I knew him, his senior leadership team turned over 100%. The cost of this turnover was likely well in excess of $1 million just to replace and train the new leaders. The cost does not include the customer impact because of poor service. The financial performance of the organization declined during his leadership and he was eventually removed from this role. During his tenure, his COO filed a lawsuit against him. The company did not recover from this leader and was eventually acquired when they had significant cash flow issues.

The problem wasn’t with his intelligence. The problem was he thought he alone was smart was enough to successfully lead a company through a major transformation. He was very strong on 1 of 7 measures of success and weak on others. Smart is obviously critical to success but in and of itself it is insufficient. 1 of 7 is a failure. So what went wrong?

This leader was very bright. He passed the cognitive complexity test. He could be charming but otherwise had very weak interpersonal skills. It was the lack interpersonal skills along with overestimating his value and intelligence that caused him to lose his job and also cost the owners of the company a significant amount of money.

To effectively transform organizations, the leader must have a broad range of skills that are summarized briefly in the seven points below. A significant deficiency in any of these areas can have an incredibly adverse impact on the company, which generally means failed transition and possibly a failed company.

We look for “Level 5” leadership qualities when leading an organizational transformation. These leaders demonstrate the qualities necessary to set the course and successfully implement changes that will work short term and continue to deliver successful results long term.

Because of the ever-changing business environment, the leadership required to operate and transform organizations now is very different than in the past. Today, leaders must take in much more information, understand a more complex and often global environment, and respond quickly.

To make leadership even more challenging, change is an ever-accelerating process. One change is never “done” before the next one begins. Leader must be both proactive in anticipating what is coming next and responding to what just happened that they did not properly predict.

The seven specific qualities you need to consider when selecting leaders who can help transform your organization are:

1. Smart at dealing with complex problems (cognitive complexity)
2. Emotionally able to deal with ambiguity and complexity
3. Strong self-awareness and self-management skills
4. Strong interpersonal awareness and interpersonal acumen
5. Ability to build flexible and robust solutions
6. Ability to instill confidence in others
7. Continually learning and looking for ways to improve self, others and the organization – treats change as an experiment to learn from rather than something to conquer

The definition of “good leadership” is changing. Many people expect the leader to have the answers, make the decisions, and be in charge. The new successful leader has different rules and leaders must retool their beliefs quickly. One way to evaluate the leaders working for you is to observe what they are doing and saying.

While they are analyzing data and creating plans, they must also work with the many stakeholders demonstrating an impeccable ability to interact. Often these people have different goals and the leader must balance all of them gracefully.

Leaders must make decisions and move forward with limited information AND be open to modifying their course as they gather additional information. They treat change like an ongoing experiment – they learn from each decision and each one (success or failure) gives them more information for the next decision.

When looking for the next generation of leaders within your organization, ask yourself the following nine questions as you evaluate your team:

1. Do they demonstrate their ability to think through the complex situations your business faces now and is likely to face in the future?
2. Do they talk about trends they are following and how those trends may impact the business?
3. When talking about their successes, do they talk about what they learned and who contributed in addition to them?
4. Do they talk about themselves in a way that you believe they are introspective and able to manage their own reactions to challenging situations?
5. When talking about areas that did not go well, do they talk about the process they used to recover and turn the situation around and who helped them with the turn around?
6. Do they discuss collaboration and how it improved their success?
7. Do they talk about what they have done and are doing to develop their emotional intelligence? Which areas they are developing (empathy, self awareness, team skills)? What tools are they using (reflection, reading, and learning)?
8. Do they talk about what they are doing to become more aware of the impact they make on others – their colleagues, their employees and their customers or stakeholders?
9. Do they talk about what they as an individual to maintain and regain balance on challenging days?

These questions augment the traditional screening process to identify industry expertise, functional expertise and cultural fit. In this complex environment we still need to do the basics well. What changes is a movement away from command and control and toward business basics augmented with interpersonal intelligence and high emphasis on continued learning and flexibility.

Maureen Metcalf is a Senior Instructor at thoughtLEADERS, LLC and she is the founder of Metcalf and Associates, a firm focused on creating strategic value through Level 5 Leaders. She can be reached at info@Metcalf-Associates.com.

For more on Best Hiring Practices, read here.  Feel free to comment below! -Brian