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.