Victory or defeat

Apr 24, 2017

The talent war is here. Building a bigger pipeline of leaders and doing it much earlier in their careers is critical if you want to win.

We sometimes have too much tradition and are slow to adapt to trends outside our industry. One of these trends is around leadership – specifically empowering people with more responsibility early in their careers. Traditionally in the AEC industry, companies have elevated leaders based on their proven capability and only when they have also met a high threshold of experience.

Leading a growing company today is more challenging than ever before. We are in a period of healthy economic expansion in nearly every sector and the war for talent has heated up beyond what we’ve experienced in more than a decade. Finding the right leadership talent at nearly every level is a priority to support growth and maintain great service with clients and owners. And even absent growth, the normal transition from one generation to another requires emerging leaders to take on more responsibility earlier. Yet a recent study reveals that only about a third of businesses across all industries are fully prepared to transition leadership duties from one generation of leaders to the next. For each of the above situations, it’s past the time to get back to growing leaders.

  • How do you identify, develop, and retain those future leaders? It’s work and takes constant vigilance to be successful. An important first step that is often overlooked is the assessment of the leadership style within your company. Studies argue that the best type of leadership is determined by situational variables in an organization, which can vary between types of businesses, companies in the same business, and over time. Identifying the leadership style that best fits a company includes the assessment of the type of work, the complexity of the organization, the qualifications of the followers, and the broad culture that exists. The assessment of the best style(s) that fit your company increases the chance you will find and develop the best candidates to lead.
  • When do you begin this process and how do you recognize a good leader? Much earlier than we ever have before. One must look past the experience and rather focus on the characteristics of the individual while making judgements about their ability to lead. This initial step of finding leaders seems to be the most elusive. One must always be on the “prowl” for potential leaders that work for you now and those you could attract to your company to add strength to the “bench.” The ability to influence others, communicate well, deliver results, a positive attitude and resilience, vision, integrity, and a team player are just some of the traits to look for. You can usually spot them in action during everyday activities. They tend to be good with clients, their peers, and subordinates. Leaders participate well, ask good questions, and strive to make constructive contributions during the conduct of meetings. And leaders almost always accomplish the goals or tasks you give them and have a voracious appetite to take on more.
  • So now you’ve found potential leaders. What’s next? You need to invest the time and cost of developing them to realize their full potential. It’s a continuous process that takes full commitment. But it doesn’t take a sophisticated Harvard-type development program to be successful. Leadership development can be scaled for the size of a company – accomplished through simple programs and activities. Leaders are best developed by simply participating in the learning and sharing experience of your business. Informal mentoring, coaching, special company projects/assignments, providing promotional opportunities, and formal education all provide an opportunity to develop leaders. The first step with leadership development is to measure readiness and, more importantly, the learning “gaps” that need to be filled. Essentially what qualities, experience, and skills will be needed for them to be successful. The best approach is also to look at each of these in a context of the future, not for today, using the “what got you here may not get you there” philosophy. A development program should be constructed at the highest level of the company to monitor and track progress of all candidates in the company but can be administered very simply through the annual goal setting and review process. The key is to have “candid” dialogue of not only dreams and aspirations, but also those areas of improvement that are needed in their leadership journey. And after all efforts are made for development, if there are serious flaws that will not allow them to be successful, they should be told.
  • How do you keep those that show the most promise? This is perhaps the most difficult part of this journey. A company needs to certainly create an environment for leaders to continue to grow and prosper while rewarding them for their accomplishments. The key is to continually challenge them with new and varied assignments. It’s also important to bring them along in selected decision-making forums you may have in the company. Simply put, engaging them constantly in the business will keep them loyal and tied to the company.

This article was not meant to be a comprehensive outline of a program for finding, developing, and keeping leaders. Rather, it’s written to inspire those reading this to get a more formal program/approach in place, to get their programs back on track, or focus current efforts with greater intensity. The talent war has arrived. Building a bigger pipeline of leaders and doing it much earlier in their careers is critical for a sustainable company.

Gerry Salontai is the founder of Salontai Consulting Group, LLC. Contact him at

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.