Editorial: Developing the next generation of leaders

Feb 22, 2013

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310) Issue # 996 Originally published 2/25/2013 Mark Zweig offers six suggestions on how to pick the right people and nurture them. But act with care. “Leadership development” – is there anything to it? Is it just more political correctness and B.S. management speak? Is it a fad? I think not. Anyone who makes it to their fifties or sixties in this business can tell you that developing successor leaders has to be a real priority. No successors means you, as the owner(s), are trapped! So the question becomes one of “how” versus whether or not it is a good idea. Here are my thoughts: 1) Pick the right people to start with. Some people want to work with others, have the ability to empathize, be humble, and be confident when they need to be. But not everyone gets this idea. There are those who let a taste of power go to their heads. They cannot assume a leadership role without alienating. They can’t be the ones you pick as successors. 2) Tell them that they are earmarked for a leadership post. This is so they aren’t anxious and don’t feel compelled to try too hard to prove themselves, and secondly, so they can start readying themselves through self-study. The sooner the better, but be sure that you keep the time schedule realistic and tell the future leader what that schedule is. 3) Spend lots and lots of time with them. How much time? I don’t know – but a lot. Take these people to lunch. Take them on client visits. Work with them on projects. Have them over for dinner. Spend a lot of time getting to know the individual(s) who will succeed you and let them get to know you as well. If you have a deeper relationship with them it will be easier for you to influence them to do what they need to do to ultimately be successful. 4) Employ outside resources selectively. I will admit I am skeptical about much of the so-called leadership development training that’s out there. But that said, I also think there are some good resources – some smart people who were very successful in their careers in this business who are now helping others to become better leaders. I have personally benefited from like mentors who were outside my company. Don’t be afraid to enlist some help! 5) Gauge acceptance and effectiveness continuously. There is no substitute for ongoing feedback from others in your firm about how the new/future leaders are performing. Again, to get honest feedback from them they will have to trust you. You also have to be sure that if all feedback isn’t positive you don’t get defensive nor allow the leader in question to act punitively against an employee. But bottom-up feedback and peer feedback about your future leader(s) are both valuable to you if you are serious about seeing this budding leader succeed. 6) Own your selection mistake, if you made one, and make a correction! No one bats 1,000. As my new head of construction for Mark Zweig, Inc., likes to say, “I will consistently get 89 percent of it right.” So the other 11 percent of the time you may make a mistake and name someone to a leadership or management post who shouldn’t be there. That’s O.K. – it happens. But correct. Don’t let a bad situation go on any longer. Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com.

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