A colleague of mine, Scott Eblin, likes to ask a question when speaking to groups of high-potential executives. “How many of you are, or have been referred to as, the go-to person in your organization?” Nearly all hands go up. While this is good, such self-identification does not tell the whole story. As stated in a new white paper developed by his firm, The Eblin Group, “expectations become broader and more nuanced and complex with successive promotions… the go-to person style become less and less tenable.”
Clearly leaders need help in developing behaviors that will help them succeed at higher levels of management. New research by the Eblin Group identifies five key behaviors that high potential leaders identify as important to successful senior management positions. “[T]hese are the positive behaviors that make ‘go-to people’ the go to people.” Let’s take them one at a time.
Strong desire to see team succeed. Leaders put the team first. That means they put people in positions to succeed and recognize those who achieve. This mindset begins with a desire for success as well as the authority to make things happen. That’s where leaders come in. They act for the good of the team.
Mental acuity and engagement. You need some smarts to be a senior leader but you also need to put those mental powers to good use. You need to engage the interest and passions of individuals. You need to help them see the vision and discover their role in fulfilling it.
Stamina/energy to perform. Management is a tough job. You possess a capacity for hard work. Smart leaders also realize that their survival depends on staying focused. Many do this through exercise and eating right. A leader’s ability to be in charge demands peak performance; stamina plays a role.
Positive image for the organization. The higher the position the brighter the light shines. Yet how many times have we witnessed senior corporate leaders wilt when the heat is on? The current financial crisis is a major case in point. Senior leader after senior leader proved that the “emperor had no clothes” when questioned about financial practices at their institutions. Accountability is critical for those at the top.
Openness and honesty in communications. Respect for others begins with being straight. Withholding critical bits of information, failing to give feedback, and hiding bad news are venal crimes that should strike any manager off the list for higher consideration. Rather look to those who share information and use it to help people succeed.
There is an underlying theme in four of these behaviors and it is this: leaders accomplish little by themselves; they can accomplish much by working with others. Those who are in positions of identifying and grooming next generation leaders would do well to select managers who know how to achieve results through the actions of others. Competency will get you promoted one or two rungs on the ladder; working with and through others will open doors to senior leadership.
First posted on HBR.org 11/13/2008