Although delegation is a crucial skill in a leader, one thing you should not delegate is developing and finding future leaders. A classic HBR article by Larry Bossidy, retired CEO of AlliedSignal (now Honeywell), recalled that the greatest challenge he faced in turning around AlliedSignal was building the management team so it was competitive. Bossidy wrote that despite the challenges he faced, he devoted 30–40 percent of his time to hiring and developing leaders. He concludes that AlliedSignal’s success was due in large part to the amount of time and emotional commitment he made to leadership development.
The first step is to be directly involved in the recruitment of leaders. This does not mean only those who report to you, but evaluating the direct reports of direct reports and even going further down the line when necessary. This includes interviewing as many of the future leaders that you can, thereby setting a standard internally; if you hire a good person they will hire good people.
Recruitment is not limited to interviewing finalists but setting up a process to get the best people to the finalist slots. I have long argued that interviews should only be a small part of the hiring process. They are a small data point, especially for a candidate who may have a 10- or 20-year track record. Some people are great at acing an interview and awful at the job; some of my best employees have not been great in interviews but based on track record you knew they had skills that would help them soar. So it is important for leaders to drill down deeply on potential candidates: Look at all the data. One great source is to talk to references (those they give and mutual connections on LinkedIn), and talk to multiple people and see how the narrative evolves. Focus on how the candidate sets priorities, gets things done, makes decisions, their energy level, etc.
When recruiting and evaluating potential leaders, there are several traits you should look for.
- The Ability to Execute. Although ideas are great, the ability to implement them is more important. There are many brilliant potential leaders out there, but the ones you want are those who can turn their ideas into reality. The best way to evaluate this skill is to look at what they have achieved as much as than their ideas.
- A Career Runway. You should look at candidates not only for how well they can succeed in the job you are hiring them for but also how they will perform at the level, or levels after that (even if it is eventually your job). You want to find someone who is not focused on the minutiae of the job but has interests and perspectives that can help him/her succeed at a higher level.
- A Collaborative Approach. You want to find leaders who be both great individual contributors and make the other leaders in your company more successful. I blogged a while ago about the importance of smart collaboration, seeking out and helping others when it helps the company without just wasting time talking to peers about every aspect of your business. It is really important to understand these collaborative skills; they will not only impact the hire’s potential to succeed but also help your leadership team become stronger.
- Multiple experiences. Consider carefully the dynamics of a candidate’s past experience. People who have only worked in a successful game franchise may not have the skills of building a competitive position in a more challenging space. If you bring in someone who has spent his/her career in a company known for weak leadership, you must be very good at developing leaders or else acknowledge the likelihood of this candidate’s failure. Bossidy recommends is finding candidates who have operated real P&L units (or in our case major games) in two or three different industries or companies.
Even if you devote 100 percent of your time to recruiting, you will make mistakes. Only a small percentage of hires are “perfect.” When you or your colleagues make a mistake, you must correct it as quickly as possible. Make sure you communicate openly with the leader who is not working out, explain the issues you are seeing, and bring in a coach or develop a plan. If it does not work out even after the corrective measures, you need to replace them. Before bringing in a new person, however, review what went wrong so you do not replicate the mistake.
Creating great leaders creates a great company
Hiring and developing a great leadership team is one of the most powerful—if not the strongest—tools for creating a great company that exists for decades. If that is your goal, then put the necessary resources (primarily time) into the process.