(Part 2)

The debate over whether great leaders are made or born has gone on for ages. Stewart Friedman, the founding director of Wharton’s Work/ Life Integration Project, believes that the potential for leadership can be developed. “It is a matter of skill. And also persistence, discipline, passion, and courage to pursue that which is most important to you and to the people around you.”

Echoing the same, is Korn Ferry’s research on leadership potential – the possibility that individuals have the qualities to effectively perform and advance in their careers. According to them, there are seven facets of leadership, three of which were described in an earlier post. Here’s a quick look at the remaining four.

  1. Awareness. To achieve high performance, leaders must be clear about what they excel at, when they can trust their instincts and abilities, and when they need to rely on others. They must also have keen awareness of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This allows them to manage themselves and others more effectively.

    Research suggests that derailed leaders share a common attribute – lack of self-awareness. They tend to perceive themselves more positively than others, which in turn makes them less aware of the weaknesses that put them at odds with the demands of the organization. On the other hand, highly self-aware leaders have a positive impact on the company’s performance. Korn Ferry analyzed 6,977 self-assessments from professionals at 486 publicly traded companies and arrived upon that result.

  1. Learning agility. This is defined as the ability to learn from experience, and apply that to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions. Nearly 25% of the Fortune 100 assess learning agility as a key component of potential. It is especially crucial during job transitions, when an individual faces unfamiliar situations. Instead of automatically defaulting to favorite past solutions, learning agile leaders apply fresh and varied approaches, to solve those new problems.

    Learning agile leaders are rated more competent, recognized as having the most potential for advancement, get promoted faster and more often than their peers. They receive twice as many promotions over a 10-year period, as compared with low learning agile leaders.

  1. Capacity. This refers to logic or cognitive ability. Research has shown that high-performing leaders are effective analytical and conceptual thinkers. They are astute at spotting patterns or trends in data. And they solve problems by focusing resources on the right challenges. But leaders who cannot shift out of individual problem-solving mode and into the job of coaching and mentoring others to analyze problems, will struggle beyond mid-level leadership roles.
  2. Derailment risk. Derailment is the failure to achieve one’s potential. The outcomes associated with leadership derailment can be very costly on many dimensions. In addition to increasing direct and indirect financial costs, derailed managers don’t build cohesive teams, dwindle the morale of coworkers, damage customer relationships, and fail to meet business objectives.

    But such risky behaviors are hard to notice. Some behaviors don’t become a career risk until people reach a higher-level position. Leaders at risk of derailing may be perceived as over controlling, or as micromanagers. Or perhaps people experience them as being more closed or defensive. In fact, some estimate that 30% to 50% of high-potential managers derail as they get promoted. Careful assessment of an individual’s derailment risk is crucial before moving him/ her into a mission-critical role.

Wondering where to start now? Just ask, “Who has the potential to take on higher-level, bigger leadership roles in the future?” And then look for varying degrees of the seven leadership facets in them.

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