Who You Gonna Pick?

People get promoted. They leave for another job at another company. They make a lateral move for another job at the same company. They retire. And yet, when it’s inevitably time to fill a vacant or newly-created position, many leaders have no idea who they’re going to pick.

There are a lot of factors that go into the leader selection process. Some of the most common reasons leaders are selected are not always the best reasons, including:

  • Tenure and loyalty. Tenure shouldn’t make someone the automatic or most obvious choice.
  • Fun and likable. Influential leaders are likable, but likability alone doesn’t mean capable, or knowledgeable, or qualified.
  • Advanced education. I don’t promote based on advanced degrees, and I wouldn’t hire for them either.
  • “Automatic expertise” of outsiders. Too often companies look outside for industry experts when the expertise they want already exists in their own organization.
  • They produce. All great leaders have been great producers, but not all producers will make great leaders.

So, what factors should you use when determining what leader you should pick?

The Harvard Business Review recently published an article that identified three common characteristics of leaders in professional service firms where leaders have to impress their peers as much as their superiors. The characteristics they shared of successful leaders could be applied to how we select leaders in any role and any organization.

First, the leaders were exemplary professionals. They could do the work required at the highest levels of quality. They were viewed as “one of us” by their peers. They were influencing long before they got the title.

Second, the leaders led their peers in the right direction while still giving their people the room they needed to do their best work. Leaders cannot control, manipulate, or micromanage their way to desired results.

Third, the leaders were politically savvy without being political. In other words, they had the ability to form successful partnerships and relationships and get people on board without scheming and attacking and leaving carnage in their wake. No matter how good you are at your job or influencing the people on your team, you must be able to form relationships with your peers and colleagues on other teams for your leadership to be truly effective.

What qualities would you add to this short list?

Take a moment and think of your key leaders. If one of them leaves, do you know who will replace them? The time to begin planning for the future and grooming tomorrow’s leaders is today.


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  • Al Getler says:

    You picked a good subject for us, Linda. Bench strength is especially hard today in two areas: sales and leadership (putting the terms together is yet another post).

    Why more organizations do not invest in developing leaders from within is beyond me. To your point about hiring from the outside; what if the cost of hiring an outsider went towards leadership training for your top potential new leaders? How many times are leaders from the outside and recruited in only to not fit the culture?

    It is a two way street. Internally,employees need to step up to become leaders and conversely, organizations need to spend the money to train them. Neither can happen without the other. I have been there.

    Bringing a leader in from the outside can be a great way to disrupt an organization in the positive sense. A strong leader from outside the organization can reengage a lot of people, most especially complacent managers and leaders within the organization.

    Always interested in your take on things, Linda. Thanks.

    • Linda Sasser says:

      Al, I couldn’t agree with you more. We do need internal employees to step up and lead, and we must invest our money AND time in them to set them and their teams up for success. As far as bringing in a leader from the outside, I have been that leader myself! Past roles have allowed me to re-energize and bring a fresh vision to an established team, and it was invigorating for me and my team. There are definitely times when bringing in “fresh blood” is the best choice for the organization. During those times it’s crucial we give the new leader guidance in understanding the culture we want, the vision and values and then, with those non-negotiables, we want RESULTS! Ha. That’s not asking too much is it? Funny too, when we hire leaders we have to realize we are leading leaders, not followers. Theres a difference. THANKS for your comments Al. You have stimulated more thinking for me. I appreciate it.