“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” Tom Peters
When I was an Accounting and Reporting Supervisor in a pharmaceutical transnational in my country, Venezuela, my greatest expectation was to become the financial director one day. However, one morning HR asked me: would you like to become financial director of Ecuador? And that was the start of an 18-year international career. I can’t say it was a dream come true because I hadn’t even imagined it. And I wonder: what happened? How did I get the opportunity to leave Venezuela before Communism began to destroy it and continue a career that took me and my family not only to other Latin American countries but also to Asia and USA? The answer is simple: because someone saw a potential on me that I did not see.
On a more personal level, I am a student and an admirer of the wisdom contained in the Bible, however, I never thought to teach it until a Brazilian pastor invited me to preach in the church where I congregated in 2002. Since then, I have not stopped.
I can safely say these two events left an indelible mark on who I am today, but to what do I owe having experienced that which has given me so much satisfaction and purpose in my life? The simple answer is to someone who was attentive, saw in me talents and abilities that I didn´t know I had, and acted in my favor.
Perhaps that is why when I recall my international assignments, the first thing that comes to mind is not the great growth in sales of a certain year, the new product launches, some systems implementation nor the huge improvement in productivity. What comes immediately to my memory instead is the people who sowed ideas in me and challenged me, as well as the seeds that inspired by them, I sowed in other people and then saw germinate and bear abundant fruit.
Today I can say with humble satisfaction that some people decided to finish their studies, pursue master’s degrees, learn a new language, start an international career and even founding their own companies after I sowed simple but powerful words of encouragement in them over a coffee or a meal. And this has impressed me so much that now I dedicate myself to it full time: to amplify professionals and companies.
HOW TO FIND AND DEVELOP LEADERS?
Change your perspective (be aware)
Perhaps the most powerful way to contribute to the achievement of your organization’s mission is by developing leaders who multiply your impact, leading through them many others to commit to that mission. A leader who does not form leaders is infertile, but the one who replicates himself has an exponential impact.
But developing others requires humility and dedication. Humility because you invest in someone to surpass you. Dedication because it takes time and effort to do so.
Observe (be intentional)
After so much time helping start and expand the careers and companies of very different leaders, I have learned to observe people and listen to them with curiosity, and to detect their strengths almost without thinking. In the same way that when we are going to take a picture look for the best angle, we can be attentive to the best angle (different qualities) that everybody has. The simple fact of asking ourselves “what seem to be the three main virtues of this individual?” allows us to begin to detect them. It is a generous and objective process. It is not about evaluating the person or forcing us to find something, it´s just to explore his or her potential.
Maybe nothing comes up but if a seemingly hidden ability appears, the second question I ask myself is: “is this person aware of his/her abilities?” Considering the feeble culture of recognition that the corporate world suffers today, it is possible that the person (as happened to me) has not noticed it. In fact, many high potential people (particularly early in their careers) do not value their own talents because they are so innate that they believe that everyone has them.
The third question is: “is there another role where this person could have a greater impact on the vision of the organization?” This is an important question because everyone is unique and many people who perform poorly in one area have good potential to do well in another.
Explore compromise (be wise)
Talk to the person about what you see in him or her. Research their interests and preferences, their aspirations and personal style. What motivates them? What are their ambitions?
Important: Handle it discreetly to avoid creating unrealistic expectations. Confidentially ask your colleagues for their opinions regarding this person’s potential. Ask them if they see the same virtues. Consider their time in the role and past performance, both on the results side but also on organizational values.
Don’t wait for the performance review or another formal interaction to dig deeper. A coffee, a meal, or the end of a meeting that ended early can be a good time to continue the process in a way that doesn’t sound official. In these meetings you can also give constructive feedback in real time and see how the person reacts.
Generate commitment (be demanding)
Once you feel confident with the correlation between what you and your colleagues think about that person, and what the person wants to do, you can move on to something more robust, such as:
- Create the person’s career profile with the possible promoting roles they could fill in right now, in 1-2 years, and in 3-5 years.
- Assign an estimated potential (calibrated with human resources and other leaders) within the categories used by the organization.
- Prepare a profile of potential and opportunities for talent along with an action plan to close any gaps. The best way to do this is “at work”, which simply is participating in projects, presentations to leadership or to the entire company, developing a marketing campaign for a non-priority product, teaching an internal course within your area, etc.
- Remember that it is important to challenge the person. High potential talents tend to adapt quickly to complexity so they must be intensively challenged to effectively test them. Have always a expectation of that person bigger than what his/her story indicates. That will motivate them to try harder.
- Change your perspective (be aware)
- Observe (be intentional)
- Explore compromise (be wise)
- Generate commitment (be demanding)