The Least Unqualified Person

A bunch of years ago I was managing a small training team within a much larger company. One of my team members accepted another position with the company in a different division. That left me with a position to fill, one in which there were no obvious internal candidates.

The person running the division I was in came to me with a “suggestion” on who could fill the position. The problem was he was completely unqualified for the position. When I pointed that out I was asked if anyone in the company was qualified for the position and my answer was “not that I’m aware of.” 

He replied, “so what’s the difference?” Just move “my guy” into the spot. When I pointed out that “his guy” was likely the least qualified of all the unqualified people he was okay with it. He said something along the lines of “since whoever we put in the role will likely not be qualified it might as well be his guy.” 

Luckily cooler, also likely smarter, heads above him prevailed and we found someone substantially more qualified to take the position. 

But how did we get to a place where putting a unqualified person in an important position was even considered?

We got there because I came up woefully short in a key responsibility of leadership. I had not been developing, looking or even considering who would fill the positions I managed if any of the people occupying them left, for whatever reason. I was like the vast majority of managers; I didn’t think much about a position until I had to fill it and that lack of forethought was expensive.

Waiting for a position to open before developing people to move up in your organization can be, and usually is, a very costly mistake. Effective leaders are always thinking ahead. They consider the “what ifs” at every level of their organizations.

We saw the benefit of having good “what if” strategies when the pandemic started. I don’t know how many organizations were fully prepared for that. I do know the ones who had thought out and prepared for the unexpected were clearly better off. 

Think about the key people in your organization. Do you realize that any of them, for a variety of reasons, could be gone tomorrow? What would you do then? You NEED to know and you’ll be a whole lot better off if you know before it happens. 

I asked about the key people in your organization because if you don’t have a succession plan for them it’s very unlikely you have one for anyone else in your organization. That will come back to bite you in places you don’t want to be bit. 

Have you identified the next generation of leaders in your organization? Do you have a plan in place to develop them. I mean a real plan. A couple of canned Leadership training courses a year won’t get it done. 

You need a well thought out, consistent, long-range plan. If you don’t always have people in your developmental pipeline then one day you’ll end up having a discussion about who is the least unqualified person to move up in your organization. 

Trust me on this…you won’t enjoy that conversation.

On a completely different subject…I’m trying something new over on Twitter. It’s called “Super Followers.” For $5 a month, that’s 17 cents a day,  people can follow a part of my Twitter stream that is for subscribers only. It features short videos of me discussing the kind of things I tweet and blog about. But the best part is I’m assuming there will be far fewer Super Followers than regular followers. That will give me the opportunity to answer questions more throughly than I can on regular Twitter. Most of the answers will come in the evening cause we all have day jobs, right? Think of it as ”mentoring on demand!”

You can find more information by clicking the Super Follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP. http://twitter.com/leadtoday Give it a try if you’re so inclined, I can’t promise it will last for a long time but I can promise the content will be helpful as long as it does.

Will You Really Invest in Your People?

Most leaders are rather proud to say that their people are their greatest asset. Funny thing is the only way you would know that is by listening to them because for many of them you don’t see it in their actions. 

When you challenge them to back up what they say about their greatest asset they invariably point to the the money they spend to develop their people. By the way, there is so much wrong with the “we spend a ton” statement that I could write several posts about it but I’ll talk about one for now. 

The first thing wrong with that statement is that with the exception of a very few companies it’s not true. In the United States the majority of companies spend an average of ten times more on their IT Infrastructure than they do developing their people. 

They see spending on IT almost as a sunk cost so while they may shake their heads at the amount, it gets approved as if there is no choice. Spending on people is a prospective cost and is often cut to protect the all important the bottom line. 

Authentic Leaders, the ones who grow and develop future leaders for their organization, know that the best investment they can make in their people is an investment of time. They don’t “spend” money or time ON their people, they “invest” money and time WITH their people. 

You can spend money on “off the shelf” training for your people or you can invest your time and your experience to truly grow and develop your people. 

If you’re delegating the vital leadership responsibility of developing your people solely to your HR team or worse, simply leaving it up to the people you lead, then you may hold a leadership position but you are not leading. 

Take a second here to reflect on the past week. What did you do to help one of the people you lead grow and develop? Criticizing them for a mistake is not helpful so don’t count those. Where during the last week did you invest the time to take someone’s mistake and turn it into a learning opportunity? When did you coach or encourage a member of your team? 

I already know the answers to those questions for too many of you. I also know the excuses you’ll use to explain away your lack of Authentic Leadership. So don’t got there. 

Go instead to your mirror and look yourself in the eye. Now read this:

Because I refuse to invest even a minute of my time to develop the people I’m supposed to be leading they will always struggle. Because I attempt in vain to manage people who desperately need to be led I will always struggle. Because we collectively struggle our organization will struggle as well. Because I am a leader in name only those struggles will be continuous. They will not be the responsibility of the people I’m supposed to lead, they will be on me. 

You may forget some of that when your excuses blot out your responsibility as a leader so you may want to read that everyday. Or you might start actually leading by investing the time to develop what you so rightfully call your greatest asset. 

Hiring Non Leaders

Only 11% of HR leaders are confident that they have the “bench strength” to fill leadership positions when they open up. That means, if my arithmetic is correct, that 89% of HR leaders are NOT confident that they have a strong group of up and coming leaders. 

Yet they continue to hire people with no leadership potential. Or at best they hire people not knowing if they have leadership potential. 

I think, and it’s just my thinking because I’ve not seen or done any research on this, but I think it’s because HR teams focus on the task at hand today. That task is filling open positions somewhere in the organization. Most of those positions are not considered leadership positions. So there is little or no consideration given to the interviewees leadership potential. 

If someone is hired who turns out to have leadership abilities then that’s great. They will be “discovered” in the course of doing their jobs and perhaps earmarked for further development. If they turn out to actually be able to lead then the organization will have gotten lucky. 

I wonder how many CEOs think it’s a good idea to “luck into” their future leaders? I’m betting not a single one. Yet when an organization hires someone without understanding their leadership potential they are leaving their future to chance. 

Sometimes Hiring Managers intentionally hire people without leadership potential. I remember a conversation with a Director of Marketing some years ago who was looking for a Marketing Communications Manager. He told me he was looking for someone who didn’t know anything about marketing or communications. He wanted someone who would do what they were told. He was tired of people suggesting new ideas or questioning his “orders.” 

Ya might say that person wasn’t exactly forward thinking. You can definitely say he wasn’t a leader.

As I write this post there are a record number of job openings in the United States. The competition for qualified candidates has never been greater. That has caused many organizations to lower their “standards” more than a little. 

I understand the need to fill open positions but that’s a mighty slippery slope. Despite the difficulty finding qualified new employees my recommendation for HR professionals hasn’t changed. I recommend organizations hire ONLY promotable people with leadership potential. 

When you can boldly and honestly tell candidates that you only hire promotable people with leadership potential it becomes a great recruiting statement. Word will get out and the quality of your candidates will go up. 

I’d ask every candidate about their previous leadership experience. An answer indicating they have never had an opportunity to lead would be a red flag. Everyone has opportunities to lead. I would ask for an example of when they chose to lead. I’d ask for an example of when they were forced by circumstances to lead. I’d ask about the outcomes from their leadership. What they learned, what the people who were influenced by their leadership learned. 

I’d ask those types of questions to every single candidate regardless of the position they were applying for. 

If they have no answers but are qualified for the job they are being interviewed for than the HR Professional has a decision to make. Do I hire this person who can help us today or do I hold off until and can find someone I know can help us today AND perhaps even more tomorrow. 

I do not envy HR Professionals and Hiring Managers who have to make that decision. But I encourage them to think about how long their organization can survive if the leadership potential of every new hire is unknown.

Don’t hope to luck into your future. Hire people with leadership potential. Help them develop into the leaders that will move your organization forward for years to come. 

Mentoring Future Leaders

Here’s a little secret most consultants, especially those who “teach” leadership, don’t want you to know. 

Leadership cannot be taught, it must be experienced. 

You can teach people about the various characteristics of effective leaders. You can teach them about personality types and how that determines a person’s response to different leadership styles. You can teach them about those different leadership styles and when to apply them. 

You can and should teach them all of that. But you can’t actually teach them to use any of it. They must see that knowledge in action and they must experience what it feels like when they are led. 

That’s why one of the most important parts of any future leadership development program has to involve the current leadership. Every leader, every single leader in an organization must be involved in mentoring the organization’s future leaders. 

Every senior level leader should be mentoring a mid-level leader. Every mid-level leader should be mentoring an entry level leader. Yes, that means people being mentored are also mentoring others. That all assumes of course that the leadership mentors are indeed effective Authentic Leaders. Assigning a poor leader as a mentor might actually be worse than letting a new leader figure it out for themselves. 

If you think you can send a person to some leadership classes and then sit back and watch them lead then you need to seriously reconsider your thinking. You can learn about leadership in a classroom but you only learn to lead by seeing and experiencing leadership in action.

Most people lead the way they were led. A great leadership class or even a lengthy leadership program doesn’t do much to change that. That’s a shame but it’s also reality. If a person was led by poor leaders throughout their careers then it’s very likely they will be a poor leader themselves. That’s because their “model” of leadership was poor. 

People learn about driving in a classroom but they learn to drive by driving. You can’t learn to fly without a plane and you can’t learn to swim without water. Why anyone would think you can learn to lead without actually leading is beyond my ability to comprehend.

If you want to develop future leaders then allow them the opportunity to lead while being mentored by a proven Authentic Leader. Any other type of leadership “training” will miss the mark. 

When Employee Development Stops

Authentic Leaders never have to guess when one of their followers is fully developed. That’s because they know they never are. They know that because they understand that their own development never stops. 

But some leaders and organizations haven’t exactly figured that out. Their “development” programs and training classes are intended for some but not all of their people. Some people are deemed “worth” an investment and some are not. 

Some organizations have what they call their “talent pool” where the people most preferred by the leadership team is invited to swim. The rest of the organization remains beached, figuratively and literally. They are left high and dry when it comes to their professional development. 

But here’s the thing; not every rose blooms on the same day. Not every banana ripens at the same time. Not every person matures, learns, and contributes at the same pace. 

It is normal and in fact necessary that leaders and organizations make judgments about their people. Hopefully, they can do that without being judgmental…but that’s another blog post. 

They need to make judgments about their skill levels, “fit” in the organization, potential for advancement, and the probability of becoming a leader themselves. 

That’s all okay. Where the problems start is when they make that judgement one time and it becomes permanent with no further assessment of the individual. The person is effectively “pigeon holed” as someone who the organization sees as “future less.” 

The reality is that person’s future is limitless IF they are led by a true leader. A leader who invests in all their people. An Authentic Leader who puts their people in a position where they can excel. Sometimes that may mean moving them into a position where they will be uncomfortable for a while and sometimes that may even mean helping them transition to another company entirely. 

Either way it’s done with the best interest of the individual in mind. 

So…when was the last time you invested even a few moments to reevaluate the people you’re responsible for leading. Have their skills changed? Has their attitude changed? Have the job requirements changed. Has your perception of them changed? 

When you periodically evaluate your teams with fresh eyes you may find some budding superstars up on that beach where you parked them. You may also find that some of your previously anointed “talent” are nothing more than clown fish in your talent pool. 

Authentic Leaders do not make permanent judgments about their people based on temporary circumstances. They also understand that all circumstances are temporary. 

Evaluate your people for who, where and what they are today. Your earlier judgment may have been a little too early to see them for who they really are.

It’s Not About You

Before you were a leader you were primarily responsible for your own success. Once you accepted the mantle of leadership you became responsible for the success of the people you lead as well. 

 

Sadly, too many people in leadership positions never make that transition. That’s one reason they never become Authentic Leaders. They remain in competition with their people for recognition and credit for a job well done. The burden of responsibility for the success of others is too much for them to bear. 

 

That burden however is willingly and sacrificially accepted by Authentic Leaders. They accept the responsibility of investing a part of themselves in another person’s success. They celebrate the success of their people even more than their own. 

 

They demonstrate that willingness by showing their people that they care about them. They see time helping their people as an investment and not an expense. They are available to their people to assist them and offer advice whenever and wherever it is needed. 

 

Authentic Leaders know that their success as a leader will be judged on the accomplishments of the people they lead. They know that their leadership is not about them, it is all about their people. 

 

An Authentic Leader’s focus must be on the people they lead. 70% to 80% of their time should be invested in people development. That development can take on many forms. But there should be very little human interaction where people development isn’t at least a secondary goal. 

 

The glory for an Authentic Leader comes not from their own success but from helping others achieve more than they dared dream was possible. True leaders build others leaders. They encourage, inspire and instigate success in their people. 


If you’re a leader who is measuring your success based only on your personal accomplishments then you are basing it on all the wrong things. Unless of course your accomplishments include a solid history of helping other people achieve their own level of greatness. 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Test of Leadership

The ultimate test of leadership is this: Do you as a leader have the ability to help common people achieve uncommon performance? Can you help a follower or a weak leader become a strong leader?

A leader, a true leader anyway, has many responsibilities. Leadership requires sacrifice, commitment and often, steadfast determination to push further when those around you are suggesting that you don’t.

I believe that the greatest of all leadership responsibilities is building people, and hopefully, building them into leaders. If as a leader, you fail to develop a leader who can fill your role upon your departure then it’s unlikely that your leadership can be deemed a complete success. Leaders who cannot build more leaders are limited leaders. That is not my opinion, that is a fact.

That limitation will also limit almost every other aspect of an organization’s growth. That’s simple math; two leaders can grow an organization faster than one, three can grow it faster than two, four can… well, you get the idea.

The challenge for leaders is that people development requires time and too many people in leadership positions believe they can’t afford the time required. These would be the same “leaders” who proudly say that their people are their greatest asset while investing more resources in service contracts for their copiers and computers than they do in developing their people.

As the saying goes, “follow the money.” When organizations don’t invest dollars in their people it makes it hard to believe that they would invest time. If the organization isn’t investing time in people development then it’s almost certain that the leader isn’t either.

If you’re a leader who wants to build more leaders then first you must understand that you can’t and should not try to lead through them. You provide leadership to them and give them the opportunity to lead others. You need to help them develop their own leadership skills and let their leadership flow through the organization.

If you’re interested in building future leaders then be a bit unreasonable. No one gets stronger by lifting the weight they are comfortable lifting. Build leaders by challenging them with seemingly unreasonable goals; goals they cannot accomplish on their own. This will encourage them to rally other people to the cause. It will likely require innovation, planning, diligence, patience, people skills, and most of all, leadership.

They will need to set direction, and coach others towards success, they will need to develop their own team of leaders. If you give all your future leaders goals you’re certain they should, can, and will achieve then you’re treating them like a follower, not a leader. Remember, making a diamond requires pressure, a raw leader who is never pressured is likely to remain just a raw, and weak, leader.

Avoid “over-coaching” your future leaders. Set clear, measurable objectives and let them run. If they need and willingly accept coaching all the time they are probably not future leaders. Leaders like coaching when they ask for it and need it; only followers want and accept coaching all the time.

Help them to believe in themselves and you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish. Their results will be uncommon and you will have passed the ultimate test of leadership; you’ll have developed your organization’s next generation of leaders.