How to Spot the Future Leaders of Your Business

6 min read

By Andrew Denny

Global Head of Medical Devices

64% of businesses surveyed in EY’s 2018 Leadership report ranked the development of “next gen” leaders the most significant challenge facing 2019. Given this took precedence over universal, technological challenges such as cyber security - even the more obvious, looming financial uncertainty brought on by the loom of Brexit - it’s clear that the recruitment and training of C-suite business leaders is a fundamental corporate issue.

Only 18% of HR departments rated their current pipeline to be strong enough to meet their business’s needs, yet only 50% have an integrated programme in place to develop potential leaders.

There is a phenomenal $50 billion spent on development programmes annually, but the level of confidence that firms have in their future leaders hasn’t moved since 2011.

With strong leadership heading the top performing companies industry wide, it’s clear that spending time attracting and recruiting the best senior leadership talent will pay its dividends.

So, what do you need to be looking for in your next business leader?

Look for obvious buy-in to your business

It seems obvious, yet the number of companies overlooking passion in candidates is staggering. An effective leader needs to be invested in the future of the company. That’s not someone who asks about your current turnover, but the person who wants the bigger picture: to know your 5, 10 year strategy and how you plan on getting there.

When only 43% of businesses feel they have candidates internally who are strong enough to fill C-suite and board positions, the likelihood of external recruitment is high. That means (costly) external hires, candidates with less knowledge about the business and therefore an overall much riskier recruit. So how do you get past passed that?

  • Question them on exactly why it is they want to work for you.
  • Test how much research they have they done; do they see the role as just a step up for themselves or are they bought into your business and its people?
  • Check their employment history. Short periods of employment are a major red flag - and a helpful indication of their loyalty.

Even for internal candidates, that much is crucial. Look for that someone who is visibly passionate about the business, who can talk enthusiastically about their goals for the company and why they are the best person to guide it towards them.

In essence, you want the person who can provide your company with - or continue to push your business towards - its wider purpose. Companies with a clear sense of purpose outperform their market by 42%. It acts as a common unifier, sees more employee engagement, better consumer loyalty, and creates a more attractive and productive workplace culture. It’s a win-win scenario for every party involved.

Choose someone who has failed before

Being able to cope well with failure - and learn from it - is a crucial part of being a strong leader. Strategy doesn’t always go to plan - often due to uncontrollable factors - so choosing someone wise on how to prepare for these events is actually a much smarter hire.

That’s not to say that failing is always a good thing - you will of course need someone who can show they can do their job well - it’s just not necessarily something to be viewed negatively. There’s a lot to be said for the resilience of someone who has failed and picked themselves back up, which is often overlooked.

What’s more, being able to own up to and take responsibility for past failures shows a personal hardiness well suited for senior staff who sit on the firing line. A leader who is transparent and takes responsibility for their actions will find it much easier to gain the trust and respect of their team; knowing they are able to hold up their hands and admit mistakes will only serve as a positive in the long run.

Find someone who can make - and stand by - difficult decisions

All leaders must make decisions, even if they are unpopular. That’s why you need someone strong enough to make those difficult calls even knowing it will hurt one of the parties involved.

Management isn’t about popularity for that very reason; you don’t want someone who will try to please everyone, going against their better judgement in doing so.

Leaders need to recognise the bigger purpose or the long term benefits of hard decisions. They need to be confident in their own ability to do that too.

Look for someone digitally adept

It goes without saying that the corporate world has undergone - or is still in the midst of - a monumental digital transformation. Businesses who fail who adapt to the online world won’t succeed, so your next generation of business leaders need to be able to lead that change from the front.

Research shows digital leaders are more prepared to tackle business challenges, anticipating and reacting to quick events and changes which make up the constantly evolving digital environment. Statistics show that digital pioneers outperform their peers by 50%.

This shows in the marked relationship between financial performance and digital activity too; one of the many reasons behind more firms taking on younger leaders, and often from the ‘millennial’ generation.

Digital literacy is critical, and should encompass everything from website management and marketing through to the automation of business functions, IT security management and strategic planning through concrete analytics.

Make sure they are a good communicator

Whilst soft skills are the hardest to measure, they are also the most important. Leadership is as much about people management and communication as it is strategizing and decision-making. If your workforce don’t believe in you, they lose faith in the business, their team, their role; and it’s a messy downward spiral from that point.

A successful leader will be a mentor, a coach, an inspirer, and a motivator. Whether you judge this on their relationships with their current colleagues or their more tangible management reviews - even on previous references - is up to you, but it’s something that needs investigating.

Another good way to test these skills is through presentational means. How do they conduct themselves in front of a board? A panel? That will translate to how they come across to a workforce of hundreds, even thousands, of people.

Good communication means an emotional intelligence too. Being able to listen and collaborate - with other people, clients, investors, companies - is essential for any leadership role.

Look for the ones who have never stopped learning

To manage an entire board, an entire company, your leader needs to be able to take on and understand the information coming from a huge variety of touchpoints. A good sign that someone can take this is that they will have consciously sought to learn from and at every opportunity presented to them.

That someone will be agile and adaptable, hungry for knowledge and constantly curious. They’ll likely have experience in more than one function, and probably shaped previous roles for themselves at previous companies.

These entrepreneurial traits serve extremely well in leadership roles; that person being open minded when hearing the ideas and propositions of different divisions, and unafraid of straying from the corporate norm.

It will never be an easy feat, replacing or deciding on business leaders; it is something that can prove either immensely constructive or wholly detrimental to overall success. The main factor here is not to judge solely on performance but on potential; to look past CVs and the more tangible achievements - and to the person. To understand their desire to grow, to develop others, to build something, to cast their vision and to make their mark.

At CSG we specialise in placing tomorrow’s industry leaders today, we work across a vast range of specialist markets and are experts in placing the right talent to drive business growth.

From smaller start-ups to blue-chip multinationals, we work with candidates at a managerial level all the way up to C-suite and board, ensuring that our clients can grow successfully with the brightest leaders at their forefront without worrying about succession planning.  

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