Leadership Gardening - Selecting Future Leaders

When talking at leadership week, I used the analogy of gardening, to explain how to develop great leaders. Over two installments, I thought I would share a snap shot of that presentation, with this article looking at selecting future leaders.

Leadership “gardening” is not a case of planting a seed and hoping it will grow – as in growing anything a bit more planning and care is required.

Not every plant can grow in every soil and must be selected to fit the environment. Equally, a plant must be selected for a specific purpose – its medicinal qualities, for flowers, for shade or to create a prickly hedge. It is the same with leadership…

For example, if the organisation is aggressive, risk taking, results driven and change hungry, it makes little sense to develop (or recruit) an individual who will be a cautious, reflective, values based leader unless you will value the different perspectives they will bring. This may work where you are genuinely trying to change your culture, but unless there are some common “anchors” they will more likely experience the discomfort of being “counter culture”.

There is no checklist of characteristics for an “ideal” plant. It is the same for leadership. Whilst there are key leadership competencies, the expression of these competencies will be different dependent on your mission, vision, the desired culture that supports that and the operational plans to deliver.
For example, one of these competencies is resilience. In innovative, dynamic environments this maybe the ability to deal with pressure and the human impacts of continuous change, however, in a caring profession this may be the ability to consistently deal with emotionally charged situations – both different expression of the same competence.

Once you have decided what you want to grow, as smart gardeners choose the strongest seedling to plant out, you must select the best potential leaders to develop. If you plant a weak seedling in the case of a leader it will not only grow poorly but will affect the health of everything it comes into contact with!

Not everyone can be or wants to be a leader. If we appoint excellent individual contributors into leadership roles without considering their leadership potential, we are often setting them and the team up to fail. In determining an individual’s potential, we should assess whether they

  • are keen to perform and want to lead
  • represent the organisation and its decisions positively to all
  • effectively analyse and critically think in order to make sound judgements and decisions
  • drive to get things done; follow up and stick at it
  • take people with them; can influence and are trusted by others

So in selecting your future leaders, the growing conditions must be right – the potential leader must “fit” with your organisational culture and environment and we must be clear about what we expect them to achieve and how we want them to behave. You should also ensure that you have the right raw materials – that you have truly identified leadership potential in an individual before starting any development and definitely before promoting them!

If you would like more information or help in developing your leaders, please contact a member of the team at Grow HR.