48: Lessons learned: How to identify and develop leaders

Primary tabs

In this episode, leadership expert Sara Canaday shares her insights on identifying and developing leaders. She offers advice on selecting high potentials and setting them up for development success, as well as advice for leaders who are transitioning from doing work to doing work through others.
Organizations have historically made significant investments to help top performers. Those who emphasize intangible skills have discovered a measurable bottom-line impact and a distinct competitive advantage in today’s fast-paced, global economy. Sara Canaday is a leadership expert who delivers keynotes, workshops and executive coaching. Her work is centered primarily in the areas of leadership and executive presence. She authored the book You – According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career. 
Listen (above) or watch the video (below) to catch Fred's interview with Sara.

Key Learnings From This Episode

  • Sara has worked with emerging and senior leaders. She works with Fortune 500 companies and their high potential programs (some call them their rotation programs). These are usually mid-level high risers who have been identified as the next generation of leaders for the company, and these companies want to invest time and energy in developing these emerging leaders. Sara works with these cohorts (groups) that are already high performers. They are interested in getting to the next level and are eager and ready to tackle new challenges, be more innovative, and discover how to close gaps so that they can perform at a higher level. 
  • What attributes does Sara see in high potential performers beyond the more common or naturally obvious? One of the challenges for people who are involved in managing these programs is that high potentials have a unique characteristic. They want to be challenged, but they have expectations when they go into these programs. They are hungry to learn, they want to be exposed to more information and senior leaders, they want to be on cross-functional and global projects, and at the same time they have expectations as to where this new and more in-depth involvement will take them. Because they are high potentials and high performers, they are given more work instead of time to assimilate and practice ‘sense-making’ around work that is really important. They are learning agile and resilient to change. They are often subject matter experts rotated into new roles where they want to consume as much information as possible to make an impact. Because they are hungry for information, they are usually broader in their knowledge and perspective. They are resourceful. They tend to be the people in the organization who can figure out where to go and who to contact for information.  
  • Has Sara seen any other ‘misses’ that companies have committed when running these programs? Sara believes one of the major misses around these projects starts with the selection process. Many companies source their high potential program by asking leaders for nominees. Sara believes high performers should be able to self-select and put their name in the hat. There is an unconscious bias when you ask leaders for nominations. There are likely more high potentials in the room than anyone knows about. It would be preferable if emerging leaders were allowed to put their name in a hat. 
  • What would the vetting process look like? The interview process is critical with an emphasis on understanding why the person wants to be in the program, their capabilities, where they are in their development, understanding what would help as he/she completes the program, how it is going to work to be in the program given their current situation (if they stay in their current role and participate in a high potential program on the side, who will take on some of their duties), and how will their manager support their being pulled in two different directions at times. It is important to come at it from several different angles so that it is understood why they are interested in the program, that they have the support of their leader, and that they are in a position to delegate some of their work if need be to enable them to be fully invested in the program. 
  • Sara Canaday quote on HR Studio PodcastGaps in how leaders see themselves versus how others see them. Sara offered her own personal example. She was a corporate leader for 15 years and very serious about her work to the point that she was not always very approachable. At meetings, she was all business, very focused on transactions and results. She discovered that this was interpreted by others as taking herself too seriously and perhaps being more concerned about her own trajectory than the impact her work had on others. She was a caring leader, but traditional in her bias for action and results – no mistakes and no risk-taking. She sees this blind spot while coaching others today. The focus and drive can sometimes get in the way of relationship building versus being concerned about collaborating and making decisions for the good of a team versus personal benefit. 

    This blind spot has a lot of ‘tentacles’. It is an unintended consequence of being focused and driven, but one that can get in the way. This typically becomes troublesome at the mid-management level when it getting work done through and with others becomes critical than doing it oneself. That is the point at which people need to know that a manager cares about their team as much as they do the work.

  • What are ways leaders can demonstrate concern and caring? Beyond getting to know people on a personal level, leaders should understand that the team really wants to know more about the ‘why’ behind certain strategies. Take more time to give information, to connect the dots, and even share the rationale behind decisions. It makes people feel part of the conversation and engaged. Even if a leader knows a solution to a problem, Sara encourages leaders to ask for feedback. Even if a leader is confident that the end result might be the same, it makes a statement when a leader asks their team for their input.  

    Leaders don’t tend to do this – not because they don’t care or that they don’t want people’s opinions – it is typically because they don’t believe they have the time.
    Although it might take more time upfront, the investment will pay off over time. It is also important for leaders to make people feel that they care about their professional growth. What is their next step? How can leaders provide them with more of a challenge, ensure they are using their strengths, and making sure they have some passion for what they are doing?

  • What is coming for Sarah in 2018? Sara is authoring a new book on how leaders today are somewhat different from a decade ago. She is continuing her partnership with Lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning on delivering and developing a number of online leadership courses. She also has upcoming keynotes and workshops for organizations and associations. 
  • Sara’s advice for next-gen HR leaders. First, consider slowing down to speed up, to have the foresight to take strategic pauses. There is such a bias for action. Because innovation is so critical, we need pauses to assimilate what we know, to connect dots that are seemingly disconnected, and to let things play out a little more before we move to action. Secondly, people should reflect on their work habits. Look at everything you do, ask ‘why am I doing this?’, ‘what is it serving me or those I lead?’ and ‘should I really continue to be doing this?’

Recommended Reading and References From this Episode

Sara Canaday HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Sara Canaday HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 8:00am
HR Consulting
Fred Bunsa
Sarah Canaday
HR Studio Podcast