01 Aug The Problem with Identifying Leadership Talent Early by Heather Wright
As we know the business market is constantly changing and it is vital for businesses to adapt to stay alive. Therefore organisations will often attempt to identify talented future innovators early and coach them into leadership roles. However, according to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, although at first sight this seems like a great and forward thinking idea, it has its drawbacks. One major issue is we try to coach someone into a future leadership position, we often end up coaching them away from the behaviour that signalled them out as talented in the first place.
When someone is consistently defined by their future potential then the future becomes their entire focus. This causes the present, as well as who they are, to lose purpose. If everyone is telling you that you’re going to be CEO in a few years, why do some of the menial tasks you’re doing right now matter? This can lead to loss of drive and the work being done now suffers. Jungian analyst H.G. Baynes called this “the provisional life”, the present is transient and passing and nothing matters except an imagined future, so work in the present is given less focus.
As a result of this process, the individuals identified as “talented” may give up on activities that they view as “unrelated” to leadership in the business, but otherwise would have developed their foundations and helped to shape them as a person. A book that might have caught their eye or a course that interested them, to develop them in their current role, are ignored despite even though these interests are what created the talent that was identified in the first place. Eventually the “talented young innovator” who had been pegged for future management isn’t the same person they were before they were selected, instead they’ve become unimaginative and one-dimensional and exactly the opposite of why you selected them in the first place.
In order to effectively keep up with the changing business market, successful leaders must be creative and willing to experiment and try new things. Why would we want to eliminate these behaviours out of our future managers and by doing so, put us on the path to stagnation and collapse?
So how do we deal with this issue? When we start coaching someone for management, we must be careful where we apply pressure; encourage them to develop on their own terms and to be more focussed on developing in the present role. Even though the identified individuals are being prepared for more senior roles, it is because of the work they’re doing at the moment. In order for a better future to arrive, the present must be its architect.
By Heather Wright and Luke Wright
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(From Harvard Business Review, May-June 2017 issue)