There’s a common misconception that being in a leadership role within an organization automatically makes someone an effective leader. Unfortunately, that’s just not true.
That being said, there are some people in this world who, based on their natural charisma and infectious go-getter attitudes, can play the role of “leader” and exude influence in ways that many people could only dream of doing on their own. But there’s a good chance that those skills, even as effortless as they may seem on the surface, took a little time to master as well.
That’s why I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as a natural born leader. Sure, leadership may come easier to some people than others, but even those people need to fine tune their skills every now and then. In this way, you could say that leadership is not a “one-and-done” acquired skill; it’s something that people need to learn and constantly work on.
So, when you’re faced with the important decision of either hiring or promoting into leadership roles within your company, what criteria do you use to make the right choice?
There’s always room for growth
Let’s take a look at another common misconception worth busting: just because someone has held leadership positions in the past makes them the best candidate for future leadership positions. Again, this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
There are actually a lot of people who have landed in leadership positions haphazardly and, without the proper training and coaching, have had to navigate those waters on their own. This leaves a lot up to chance; some are successful at embracing the new challenge with open arms while others crack under pressure and eventually crash and burn.
Some people just aren’t cracked out to be leaders—and that’s ok. They can bring a tremendous amount of value in a lot of other ways, so instead of bogging them down with leadership responsibilities, give them a runway to do what they do best. Not only will they be happier doing that work, but giving those people the right focus will also benefit your organization in the long run. It’s a win-win.
Similarly, there are a lot of people who have incredible potential to be amazing leaders but just haven’t yet had the opportunity to flex their leadership muscles. These are the people you really need to focus on. With the right training and support—along with a genuine desire to lead teams and companies to success—these people can be worth their weight in gold. Not to mention, these are also likely the people who won’t shy away from learning new skills and then actually apply those skills in their day-to-day.
Spotting these diamonds in the rough isn’t always easy. However, once you’ve found them, here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure they succeed in their newfound leadership role:
1. Be open to unconventional career paths
This may sound like heresy, but a job description is merely a job description. Very rarely will you find a candidate that ticks all the boxes—and even if you do, they may not be the right cultural fit for your team or organization. In a similar way, experience is just experience. When assessing candidates for leadership roles, spend less time focusing on what’s on paper and take the time to learn more about the “impact” that those candidates made in those roles. Because roles and responsibilities can vary significantly from one company to another, a big VP-level title in a resume may be nothing more than the result of a long-tenured employee receiving a series of promotions, without ever getting a change in responsibilities or even a team to oversee. That’s why, when pinpointing future leaders within your organization, it’s important to consider new hires—or even current employees—who may not necessarily fit the bill on paper but, rather, bring broad experience, unique insights, and an eagerness to grow to the table.
2. Leadership skills and role-based skills are two entirely different things
It’s important to remember that leadership skills are learned just like any other skills. Just because someone has been a top performer in their current role doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for the challenges of being a leader. Succeeding at the role-based level is just that: mastering the skills to do a specific job well. Although they are certainly role-based skills involved with leadership positions, there’s an entire layer of human-, interpersonal-, and communication-based skills that rarely see the light of day in a job description. In other words, just because your top salesperson keeps beating goals every quarter doesn’t mean that the same person is ready to lead a team. How this person succeeds at the individual contributor level is vastly different from the challenges they will face as a leader. Try not to confuse the two.
3. Leadership is a continuous learning process
Even if someone has a tremendous amount of potential, just throwing them into a leadership role without any guidance is a recipe for disaster. You can’t expect anyone, even those people who have held leadership positions in the past, to rise to the occasion when faced with new teams, new responsibilities, and new challenges. That’s why it’s important to build learning and development into every leader’s growth plan, especially knowing that leadership is more nurture and less nature. So, if you’re in charge of developing the leaders within your organization, as an HR professional, take the time to create a leadership development skills “playlist” and make continuous learning mandatory for anyone hired or promoted into your company’s leadership ranks.
4. Don’t forget about soft skills
Because leadership is interpersonal in nature, it’s important to help your leaders develop skills beyond their day-to-day roles and responsibilities alone. Qualities like empathy, adaptability, communication, crisis management, ability to inspire, and more are skills that can set apart a successful leader from one who makes little impact. Although many people at this level may feel that learning soft skills may be “overkill” or unnecessary at this stage in their career, it’s important to reinforce that these skills, like leadership in general, are not “one and done.” They must be practiced, refined, and perfected over time. And when they take the time to do this, they’ll see that their more “human” side of leadership will start to shine through.
Remember, leadership is learned
Unless you missed the point along the way, let’s reiterate here again out of good measure: leadership is not something you’re born with, it’s something you learn.
A big part of this requires companies to proactively implement learning and development programs to ensure that leaders not only succeed in the role-based tasks but also continue to build the necessary skills to ensure that they constantly motivate, inspire, and encourage their teams to be as successful as they can be.
And since being a dynamic leader isn’t a skill most of us are naturally born with, it’s important for HR teams to implement comprehensive learning and development programs to ensure that any people hired or promoted into leadership roles can thrive at all times. Platforms like Cornerstone Learning can help you take the guesswork out of developing your company’s next generation of leaders. And as always, if you don’t know where to start, the team at Cornerstone is ready to help you take your learning and development program to the next level.