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Emerging leaders and building your talent pool

Inspire Group CEO Dan Tohill interviews Inspire Group Leadership Development Manager Nic Veltman on the topic of emerging leaders and she offers her thoughts and experience on how you can build a pool of talent in your organisation.

In this episode we cover:

  • the key challenges involved in identifying and developing your talent pipeline
  • how the best organisations are identifying and choosing their talent pool
  • the essential elements or attributes for becoming an emerging leader
  • and much more.

Listen to episode here:

 

Or read the interview summary below:

 

Why are emerging leaders such an important topic?

From my perspective, from my career and leadership journey, and what I'm seeing out there, this is a critical part of any organisation, because you want to build your talent pipeline, and your leaders. We all know the saying, ‘people don't leave companies, they leave their leader or their manager’. So if you can build really good managers and leaders, then you're going to have a fairly robust and successful company.

What are some of the challenges with emerging leaders?

I think it's changed. It used to be that the only way that you could progress in your career or in your organisation was by being a people leader or a manager, or something with some sort of hierarchical status and title. We all know now that things (organisational structures) have become flatter. Emerging leaders is more around understanding who is really good with other people and who can get work done through other people. They don’t necessarily do the work, but they can if they need to. They're actually much better at pulling together the right team to generate a successful outcome.

Emerging leaders are people who want to make change in the world. They’re the doers, the creators, they're the ones that can see what needs to happen, and understand all the little steps that need to occur for that to happen. And they know that they can't do it on their own, so there's quite a bit of humility there.

What are some of the things that these emerging leaders need to be aware of and cautious of?

Emerging leaders need to back themselves, because if we go back to the ‘old days’, men definitely had an advantage over women. I don't see that so much now. But I actually went for an interview with a bank here in Wellington and the interviewer said to me, ‘I really want you to come on board, but you need to know that a guy that starts after you or even just before you will be promoted ahead of you’. I said Wow!, Why is that?  And he said ‘Well, that's just how it is in our industry’. And I didn’t take the job. This was back in 1988, so not that long ago. But interestingly there are still aspects of that attitude around today and that's why diversity and inclusion is so important. So I think what you need to be aware of for an emerging leader or someone who thinks that they want to be a leader, is to understand that it's much more than just making sure that people do work, or do good work.

It's about stakeholder engagement. It's about having those really good influencing skills, conversational skills, it's about looking up, looking down, looking across. It's not just about that little sphere that you're in charge of, it’s much more than that. It’s systems thinking, it's looking at the big picture. It's translation. For example, if we know that your organisation has a sales goal of $1 billion this year, how do you break that down into what your team does so that it’s achievable and not scary?

I think if you're really good at dissecting it for people to understand then you'll be a good leader. Whether you're a leader of people, for example you've got to manage leave, recruitment, all this stuff, or whether you're a leader in a project, or in a technical position, you still need all of those skills. 

Do you think it's become harder for people to step into leadership roles and emerge as a leader?

So if you think back, about 10 or 20 years ago, you usually became a leader because you were a great performer, right? This person is amazing so they give them some people to be in charge of. And they might not even like people and then it didn't go well. Then they’ll say – what happened to this person? Well nothing actually happened to this person, you just placed them in the wrong role.

There's so many different facets to this. The other thing I've seen a lot of is, if there is an emerging leaders course or opportunity for people out there, and the leader of that person is not particularly good, they might just send someone on that course as a gift. And it's like, well, buddy, if you've been in this organisation for 10 or 20 years, and you haven't emerged as a leader yet, then you’re not going to emerge by going to a course.

So it's a set of behaviours. Skill comes into it, but fundamentally the leader shows their true colours by how they interact with others.

Do you think some leaders might learn some new skills but become reluctant to practise them?

When you're a leader, you're a leader all the time. You’re ‘on’ all the time. As a leader, if the last time you led a team was 10 years ago, and you're going into a new team, then you're going to have to brush up on some skills.

Not to say that what you've done in the last 10 years isn't transferable into what you're about to do. But the important thing is that you're aware that you're not going to be the best you could be. I come back to that word, humility. I think it's really important. We don't ever learn everything, and we are always encountering different people or encountering different challenges, and then if you add in a work challenge on top of the people challenge, suddenly you have a whole different dynamic again. So you always need to be exceptionally open minded, clear of your goal, and then you just need to connect the dots between the work, the people, and the goal. I don’t think leadership is easy.

In terms of emerging leaders making that transition, what are some of the things that have helped these people?

I think the most important thing you can do for someone who's thinking that they might want to be a leader is to show them all the different types of things that are involved in being a leader. So if you're going to be a leader that goes into the workforce, and it's a corporate entity, and it's a business, then you're going to have to work with a whole bunch of different people that are beneath you, next to you and above you, and you need to get on with all of them. So you need to really have the type of personality that isn't defensive, which is really hard because we all have that. You need to be exceptionally open minded, and you need to just stop and pause and think about stuff. Often you’ll see this in really green leaders, they want to react, they want to react straightaway and give you an answer.

They feel that there is an expectation that they should know it all. But being a leader doesn't mean you know it all, being a leader just means you can gather the facts, figure out what needs to happen and get it done.

I think one of the things that you need to be aware of if you're an emerging leader or if you have staff that you believe could emerge or want to emerge as a leader, then make sure that everything that's around them is going to support them to be the best that they can be. And that means if they're suddenly going to become a leader of people or a leader of a function, then make sure you’ve given them all the tools to actually support them.

Help them stop doing some stuff, clearly tell them what they need to start doing (possibly some stuff they might not have done before), and tell them what to continue doing. They might have gone from playing in the team to leading the team. But when they played in the team, these are all the strengths that they had, so take those strengths with them. They might also need to learn some new strengths, but they'll figure it out as they go.

If everyone got up out of bed in the morning and said ‘I want to make my day really good and those around me really good’, if we had that attitude and that mindset, it wouldn't really matter who emerged because they'd be supported.

A good emerging leader is someone who just wants to get along
 and get the job done in a collaborative way.

 

When emerging leaders are presented with all the stuff they’d need to do, does that scare them and put them off?

There are people that have had fantastic leaders and role models and have decided that they want a piece of that, that they want to do this. And then they come along and they understand what that great role model did. They understand that it's not just about having the odd conversation, checking in and going to have a cold beer on a Friday. It's about doing all of your work and also making sure that they're doing all of their work and then coming together and making a cohesive happy team.

Often, when a person comes out of an intervention, that's an emerging leaders or an aspiring leaders course, they'll go ‘well, actually, no, that's not for me’. I'm happy in my bubble. I'm happy coming to work, doing a really good job, getting along my peers and going home. That's what I want out of life. I don't want all that other stuff. If you can hold the mirror up and show them what their good role model would do in a day, then they have the opportunity to think about it. And if they say that's fantastic, but I can't or don’t want to do that myself, then that is a great thing.

We've had some say that's definitely not me, I'm an introvert and I work alone. I'm going to go down the technical route and become a technical manager. So I'll still be a leader of sorts, people will seek me out for information. And then there are those that have gone ahead and done it, and they've either been fantastic or not.

What things bring emerging leaders closer to being that ideal leader?

Those that I believe have made the decision to give it a go, have had the best support. What I mean by the best support is they've had support from their immediate manager. Plus, they've had great peer support. So they've been paired up with other people that are starting the leadership journey at the same time. It might be through a cohort of learning, or it could just other people in the organisation at the same level.

When you're starting out on your emerging leaders journey, it’s important to surround yourself with those people in the same boat. It’s also really important that the onus must be on yourself. Seeking that coaching or seeking that support and taking responsibility for what you need to be successful.

Given that humility and vulnerability are such important leadership skills, do you think that those that put their hands up for leadership roles necessarily have those traits?

It's a societal thing, but those that approach this with an open mind to do the best they can for themselves and others are going to have the most success. Those that step on heads to get somewhere will get there, but will they have a following, will they have respect, will people want to hang out with them? I know which bucket I want to be in.

It's really important for us to start young. I'd love to start in schools where people can understand the differences they have between them and other people and that that's okay. I’m jumping into diversity again, but that's such a huge part of being a leader. In this country and in this world, you have to understand that people are different. And you've got to take the best of the best of all those people and achieve results. If you're broad minded enough and you want a piece of it, then give it a go.

What are organisations doing in terms of deciding who those emerging leaders might be?

The organisations doing it well are generally the younger emerging businesses that are private and they're little enough to know what they need and what they don't need. So they are clear about what great looks like. They have values, they have promises, they have missions, and they're really clear on their direction and really clear on the people that they need. So they're quite happy to go outside to find an emerging leader, or they get an emerging leader from within, but it comes from all facets, it’s not just from within and I think that is really important.

I think more people are looking for the will rather than the skill, because the skill can be taught.

In contrast you have the organisations that have been around for a little while, there's a lot of legacy, and they'll stick someone in the role that has been waiting in line.

 

Given that leadership now feels more multifaceted, and more nuanced than it did 10-20 years ago. Do you think that's opening opportunities for other people to think maybe this is for me?

I see leadership becoming way more diverse and much less hierarchical. If you think about the way the world is going as people work remotely, if you're leading these people, you need to be able to stay connected. And that's what I believe good leadership is, it is staying connected. It doesn't matter where you are or who you are, it’s always touching base.

What advice would you give to an emerging leader?

I’d say, stay true to yourself. If you're going into a situation you're not comfortable with, then make that really clear to the people around you, and also make it really clear what works for you and what doesn't work for you. If they understand that and they accept that, then half the barriers are already gone. You can just get on with it.

If you wake up one day, and you think that this isn’t for me any more, than genuinely do something about it.  Don't hang around in a place where it's not going to work for you. That's not good for you or anyone around you. Work with the willing, go where you’re wanted, and go where you can make the biggest difference for you. It's about impact, outputs and making a difference.

 

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Nicolette Veltman

Written by Nicolette Veltman

Inspire Group's Leadership Development Manager. She is a true advocate of leadership, customers and stakeholders. She has over 25 years experience in development of people and helping us all to be better.