It has been said that Human Capital as the most valuable Resource that any organisation be it in the political, economical and / or social domains would require for purposes of progress, growth and development generally. These organisations to succeed and eventually prosper, or perhaps simply stand their grounds, do need leadership of one type or another. There is plenty of literature on this very topic but the following essay of McKinsey would not pass unnoticed. In our series on leadership, refer to Leadership Priorities in Year 2017, we did not cover this aspect of the business of tracking, selecting and ultimately contracting in quality personnel. This is possibly the most perilous but also the most rewarding operation of selection of an employee, an expert and / or a president of a country. Excerpts of the McKinsey’s Finding Hidden Leaders are reproduced here.
By Kevin Lane, Alexia Larmaraud, and Emily Yueh
The first explanation is size: in large organizations, it’s easy for hidden talent to stay hidden or be drowned out by the noise of complex organizational processes. They could be in a business unit far from the corporate center or in a backroom job away from the action. They might be quiet and reluctant to push themselves forward, eclipsed by more forceful personalities. Yet they may perform exceptionally well in their jobs, collaborate effectively with colleagues, have extensive networks across the organization, or carry informal influence among their peers. In short, they are showing signs of leadership potential, but it remains untapped because they are shielded from senior managers.
Another reason why promising future leaders go unnoticed is bias in the selection process. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Carolyn Buck Luce, and Cornel West have shown, bias can be consciously or unconsciously based on race, ethnicity, or gender, or on age, when older employees are seen as past their prime. A language “deficit,” or even a strong accent, has been known to cause people in global organizations to be penalized, as has a failure to fit conventional cultural norms. Sometimes it might be merely a one-off bad experience on a project that taints a high-potential employee’s reputation. Or it could happen to someone who steps off the conventional path for personal reasons—for example, to have a child or care for an ill family member. Managers in most organizations, notwithstanding efforts to encourage diversity and inclusion, still tend to recognize, reward, and promote people who look and behave like them and who have followed similar paths, while neglecting others whose leadership potential may be equally impressive.
Finally, there is the problem of the narrow top-down lens that senior leaders often use when looking for leadership talent. Underlying this is the mistaken assumption that only those at the top of the organization know what great leadership looks like, or a narrow focus on leadership contexts specific to the organization and the particular role. This can crowd out other perspectives, such as what individuals have achieved outside the company or what people lower down in the organization see as examples of effective leadership. A narrow lens can also interact in subtle ways with bias, as was the case for the executive at a large technology company who found it difficult to understand why a female manager wasn’t seizing more opportunities to “demo” the company’s products at major events as he and other senior leaders had done during their rise up the ranks.
Overcoming the obstacles of size, bias, and narrow lens is a management challenge of the first order. In our experience, the most common means of finding leaders in large organizations—what we call harvesting—is not up to the task. Harvesting assumes that the best, often with some help, will organically rise to prominence and can then be plucked and placed into leadership roles. There are many varieties of harvesting, but it essentially involves planting talented “seeds”—new hires—in the organization, giving them increasingly demanding tasks, providing training and support as they develop, allowing them opportunities to demonstrate their abilities, and choosing the best performers for the senior roles. Managers who do this best invest a large amount of time and energy in cultivation activities. There is a lot of value in this, and harvesting should remain a vital part of developing and selecting. But it does little to unearth hidden talent, because hidden talent, by its nature, includes individuals who for some reason are not on the standard advancement path and thus remain invisible to those relying on conventional processes.
How to spot your hidden leaders
Finding employees with the qualities to be tomorrow’s leaders requires more than harvesting talent and should include what we call “hunting,” “fishing,” and “trawling” (exhibit). These approaches are more proactive and involve, for example, turning over more stones than usual, encouraging leaders to identify themselves, and finding new ways to tap into the environments where people live and work.