Step Change Leadership Potential

Current Performance alone is not a predictor of future potential. So how do we recognise whether someone has potential, and how far they can go in an organisation?

Contrary to what we may think, potential is measurable and predictable. However, past performance in itself is not an adequate guide. We need to know not just how people have behaved in the past, but how they will think and act in the future.

Over the years there have been many studies, including our own "Learning for the Top" research, of people who have risen to the top of their chosen activity. All of these studies share two common themes:
  • Successful people have learned more or acquired significantly more skills than their colleagues or competitors - mostly through self-directed "natural" learning and some key people.

  • Successful people have high levels of Drive. Having the talent is not enough. There must also be the will and energy to exercise it fully.
Some people, however hard they work, cannot function well outside the areas that they know. They tend to rely on experience alone, rather than experience plus thought. Coupling a bigger job with the increasingly complex and uncertain world in which we work, requires us to answer the key question:

"What can this person learn to do that they have never done or been asked to do before?"

The "Potential" Challenge

Known problems do not require a great deal of thinking about. Future, unknown problems do. Potential is Future capacity.

Solving problems at higher, more complex levels requires more than analysis, it needs the addition of creative thinking and judgement. The capability to integrate larger and larger amounts of information becomes essential to success, which in turn calls for higher levels of capability to generalise and conceptualise.

If this is the Intellectual "thinking" challenge that comes with step changes in responsibility, what about the increased volume of new, more complex internal and external relationships? This is where the Temperament "doing" challenges of leadership become increasingly important.

To undertake an action, the first requirement is to accept personal responsibility and have the Drive for producing a result. Life in general and working life in particular is rarely straightforward - there are setbacks and disappointments along the way, and it is personal Resilience to persist with alternative approaches that helps us through them. Finally, we often need to get things done with and/or through other people and the capabilities involved here are associated with Emotional Intelligence.

Apologies if this sounds obvious, but if it is, why do so many organisations still fall into the trap of placing so much reliance on current performance as a predictor of future potential? We know this from the conversations we have had recently with organizations who are still seriously concerned about the impact of their inconsistent talent identification and development in three key areas:
  • Promotion mistakes: Which are both costly and de-motivating

  • External recruitment: Which is often proving expensive and unreliable.

  • Business disruption: Which results from time lags in filling positions and "caretaking".
There are two significant and inter-linked factors that go a long way to addressing these, and other similar challenges:
  • Understanding fully the step changes in core transferable capabilities as jobs get bigger.

  • Using core transferable capabilities to measuring individual potential for bigger jobs.

Understanding fully the "step changes" as jobs get bigger

In order to gain this understanding it is necessary to be able to answer one fundamental question - potential for what? For many years we have worked with a Rolescoping™ framework of core transferable "thinking", "doing" and "transition" leadership qualities. We have recently refined this still further to provide precise understanding of step changes involved at four generic leadership levels, which we have called:
  • Operational Decisions
  • Operations Leadership
  • Operations Strategy
  • Strategic Leadership
Each of these has a clear definition, which can be flexed to fit individual organisational contexts and connect with existing organisational competencies. Because we are scoping the level of capability in just eight core transferable qualities, the outcomes from the process provide a shared organisational language for talent identification and development. This overcomes one of the main barriers to talent movement across organisational boundaries.

Accurately identifying potential for bigger jobs

Once step change levels are clearly defined, there are many reliable ways of measuring potential. In our experience, two of the most effective are through:
  • Line Managers

  • Development Centres
Line Managers: Our work focuses on their key coaching role as Talent Developers. In particular, how understanding of the core transferable leadership qualities and step changes between levels can be used to provide creative and stretching opportunities for identifying potential. To support this we have designed a framework of coaching opportunities for line managers with 16 leadership activities that broaden their skills in developing people with potential.

Development Centres: In one day our Development Centre provides real clarity about an individual's promotion potential in each of the core transferable leadership qualities and in various diverse organisational contexts. Whilst it shares some of the characteristics of practical exercises and interviews, our process is much more structured and closely defined than either. It relies on looking for specific behaviours in a set situation, and clearly categorising the level of capability that is achieved. (See our article on Development Centres)

Working with Wadenhoe

For over 20 years The Wadenhoe Consultancy has been working in partnership with organisations to design, deliver and sustain leadership and organisation development activities that have measurable and permanent performance outcomes.

It is not our style to make assumptions about the precise needs of organisations. We are however very clear that the new work described in this article, has the potential to make a real difference. So here are some ways that we currently work with organisations to increase the effectiveness of their talent identification and development:
  • Applying our Rolescoping™ Thinking, Doing and Transition Capabilities to leadership levels and organisational competencies, so that career path step changes are absolutely clear for leadership resourcing and succession planning.

  • Clarifying opportunities for Line Managers to "coach" in a way that enables them to create stretching assignments, so that they are in the best position for identifying and developing potential to operate at a higher level.

  • Designing Development Centres that identify clearly those people with potential to make "step change" moves, so that the talent availability is absolutely clear and promotion "mistakes" are minimised.
To find out more please contact Sue Bell on:

The Wadenhoe Consultancy Ltd

Prama House
267 Banbury Road

Phone: 01865 339558
Mobile: 07899 796993
Fax: 01865 339301

Registered in England No: 6717860

©2012 The Wadenhoe Consultancy Ltd