Start with the “so what?”—business strategy
Before thinking about the leadership challenge, step back and think about where the business is going. What are the top three to five priorities for the company, things you’re working on now and where you might be headed five to ten years down the road? Being clear about what you’re trying to do is the first step to building the leadership required to do it.
Ask what leaders need to be able to do—capabilities
Next, ask yourself what a leader needs to be good at in order to accomplish your business strategy. If your top three priorities are, say, growth in India, increasing customer service and retention in the U.S. and dealing with new regulations, what capabilities do leaders need to support those priorities? Some of the leadership capabilities may be “evergreen” (i.e., strategic thinking, influence, inspiring others, etc.) no matter what your strategy. Other capabilities will need to be emphasized because of your strategy (i.e., in the example above, a company would emphasize global mind-set, cultural competence, knowledge of customers and managing risk).
Ask where leaders need to be—pipeline
Figuring out where leaders should be located goes hand-in-hand with knowing what capabilities they need. If your strategy is to grow in India, naturally you’ll need leaders in India who understand emerging markets and know how to execute there. You’ll also need decision makers in HQ (assuming it’s not in India) who understand the diversity and dynamism of the Indian market and what it takes to grow there.
Assess where your leaders are—gap analysis
Assessing leaders against the business strategy, capabilities and pipeline is the next step. Formal assessments (such as assessment centers) and informal assessments (looking at performance management data, having conversations about unmet needs) reveal where gaps lie, such as “We don’t have enough leaders in India who can grow the market” or ” We don’t have the right mind-set about how to grow in emerging markets among our general manager population.” This is a critical step and too often I see companies rush to development solutions before first understanding where the gaps lie.
Take targeted actions across the system—close gaps
The key here, as you look at the populations you want to affect and the leadership capabilities you want to create, is to realize that no one action will be sufficient. To further your growth strategy in India, you may send some leaders to targeted learning programs or develop programs in-house, hire more leaders with the right skill set, adjust your performance management system to focus on the desired competencies, regularly expose leaders to stretch assignments and choose high-potentials to send to India for the immersion experience. A systemic approach that leverages what we call the “three Es”—experience, exposure and education—will be more effective than just one program or one mentoring program or one job rotation.
Build the necessary support structures—reinforce
At the same time, the leadership development process needs the proper reinforcement and support within the company. For example, developing leaders need mentors and sponsors to help them make connections and build networks within the company and with customers. There needs to be a process for assigning leaders to stretch roles, as well as a process for reintegrating them back into “corporate” after they’ve been abroad, in school, or on assignment in other locations. And finally, is there “room at the top” for leaders who have proven themselves and are ready for the C-suite, or are you comfortable with targeted top-talent attrition (as a “net exporter” of leaders) as part of your leadership strategy?
The point of Leadership by Design is to make the leadership development experience an integral part of the organization. A thoughtful business strategy makes possible a comprehensive leadership strategy, which in turn makes it possible to build the leadership pipeline, development system, talent management processes and organizational culture that keep the business moving toward its goals.