Don’t run off the real leaders who are already inside your A/E or environmental firm

Jul 28, 2008

It is not easy— finding enough leaders to fill all of the leadership needs inside your company. Some (many firm founders) might think one factor could be that most everyone in your firm probably did not start it. They joined the company as employees. That decision to go to work for someone else could imply that one is not going to be a leader and instead wants to be led. But, thankfully, not everyone who joins an existing company in any position less than the CEO is incapable of becoming an effective leader. There are just too many examples of great leaders in firms in this business who didn’t start their companies but instead rose through the ranks. Another factor might be that you run off (lose) those who have the most leadership potential. I think that this is, unfortunately, very common. Nine times out of 10, this is the scenario leading to a lack of internal candidates for posts requiring leadership talent. How are these future leaders forced to leave their employers? Let’s have a frank discussion of some of the more typical ways... Your future leaders come to the conclusion that your firm’s leaders are uninspired. There’s a lot of this going around. Especially now, as the business climate cools off a bit and companies start focusing more on profits and cash flow, the feeling of many young leaders in the ranks might be that more lofty goals should be set and a more esoteric mission be pursued. Your future leaders feel their path to principal is blocked. If there are only going to be “X number of principals for Y number of staff,” it’s easy to understand how some of the potential leaders down in the ranks could feel stymied. And, this feeling is furthered by a lack of revenue growth and resulting promotion opportunities. Your future leaders become convinced the company has too many problems to solve and it’s just not worth it. I have seen this more than once. The reputation gets too damaged from some sort of incident that gives people the feeling the company name is tainted. Or, the company has such a huge buyback obligation to departing shareholders that new potential leaders cannot see how they’ll ever get out from the mountain of debt. Any of these situations could run off a potential leader. Your future leaders feel unappreciated or underpaid. If these people don’t get promotions, accolades, or more money for too long of a period, they feel like no one cares about them and start to look elsewhere. Your future leaders don’t know that you see them as future leaders. Many companies simply don’t tell specific people in clear language that they are one of their firm’s anointed future leaders. There may be disagreement amongst the principals about who these people are or the firm likes to have a surprise element in these matters. Either way, it’s bad. Just telling someone they could go all the way to the top could keep them there ‘til they do go to the top. Don’t wait until their notice is turned in! Your future leaders don’t feel you are investing in them. If you don’t send them on overseas or out-of-town trips, don’t support their attendance at conferences, or don’t spend a nickel on training or tools they need, your next-gen leaders will start wondering why they should stick around for more of the same. Your future leaders don’t see how they fit into the grand scheme of the firm. If someone is a mechanical engineer, for example, and the firm CEO constantly refers to the company being an architectural firm, that is bad! Your future leaders are kept in the background while current leaders bask in the limelight. Not giving any credit is a real problem for some firm leaders. They want it all. This encourages next-gen leaders to move on where their egos can get some glorification, too! Think long and hard about your next generation of leaders. Keep the ones you have— and you’ll have the ones you need when you want them! Originally published 7/28/2008

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.