Leadership is a topic that has long been studied, from what it is to what makes someone a good leader. The term generally defines a person’s ability to guide an organization or group, and influence them, hopefully, for the greater good. Much thought has been given to whether leadership is an innate or learned trait. The consensus is that leadership encompasses a set of competencies and skillsets, which can be learned. While some individuals may have a natural affinity to lead, most of the hallmarks of good leadership can be developed.
So then, how do organizations identify potential leaders before making job offers, and for those already on staff, what are the traits to look out for?
Recognizing Emerging Leaders During the Interview Process
Hiring managers should look for a set of behaviors, competencies and traits when evaluating potential and incoming team members. Two very important characteristics that demonstrate leadership are good communication and active listening. Can the person effectively get their message across verbally and in writing? Is there an ability to mirror back what was heard, observe non-verbal cues, and respond appropriately when engaging with others? Additionally, a good leader exhibits critical thinking and the ability to adapt quickly to change, especially in fast-paced work environments.
Individuals comfortable wearing multiple hats typically have a leadership mindset. They’re the kind of employees who enjoy contributing and add value to an organization. Solution-seekers are also a good fit for leadership roles as they tend to see a problem and find a way to approach it differently.
Creating Pathways for Existing Employees
Companies typically want to promote from within. The reasons vary from saving time and money to retention efforts. Two critical skills that emerging leaders demonstrate are collaboration and accountability. They can work across departments with various people as needed and stay true to commitments made. Essentially, they say what they are going to do, and they get it done.
Employers also play a role in developing leaders by offering leadership programs for existing employees. Leadership training needs to be a multi-tiered process that starts with a career path and builds on it through first-rate programming designed to advance competencies. The “leaders in training” need opportunities to implement what they have learned in the program so it’s not only theoretical. Programs with a mentoring component are the most successful as they give employees guidance on how to ascend within an organization. For example, a c-suite executive mentoring an up-and-coming leader can champion that person for new projects that arise. If a company relies solely on a leadership curriculum where employees go online for skills acquisition, but there are no definitive action items, chances are low that the mentee will be successful.
Case Study: LEAD Program
Kaseya’s Leadership Excellence and Development (LEAD) Program invests in the next generation of leaders. Managers nominate employees and then a cohort of 80 are selected annually for the six-month program that includes multiple curated learning paths and virtual-instructor-led training with the company’s senior leaders and external experts. Participants also participate in “fireside chats” with management and complete leadership assessments. LEAD is designed with clear career pathing in mind so that employees gain knowledge in various leadership fundamentals. For more seasoned leaders, topics focus on management vs leadership, strategy and vision, and influence, among others. Additionally, Kaseya offers an Associate Development Program for recent graduates.
Investing in Employees Pays for Companies
There is a cost-benefit for companies to invest in leadership development programs. There’s an adage that says, “what happens if we train our people and they leave?” to which the response is, “what happens if we don’t, and they stay?” If employees don’t receive training for leadership roles, they won’t be prepared to meet the challenges of the future. Making the list as an employer of choice goes beyond offering competitive salaries and benefits. Research shows that learning and growth opportunities are the #1 retention lever that companies can pull if they want to keep employees and grow them with the company. And while there is a cost associated with designing and implementing leadership programs, it far outweighs the cost to replace high-performing employees, especially those slated for leadership positions. Companies need to consider costs associated with productivity loss, recruitment and possibly even relocation expenses for highly coveted leadership personnel. On average, the overall per leader cost of implementing leadership programs is less than 15 percent of what recruiting one new leader would be.
Upskilling for Success
Companies that want to retain outstanding employees need to invest in leadership development. Again, research shows that the number one reason why people leave an organization, ahead of better circumstances, better compensation and 401K match, is lack of growth and advancement opportunities. Investing in upskilling also allows companies to scale. Many managers hire for where the company is at present day, but to be successful tomorrow, they need to raise the level of competencies so new challenges can be met along the way as the business expands. Offering advancement opportunities for people within the organization who have proven themselves and shown they can grow is just good business practice.