Not Everyone is Cut Out for Leadership

Nope.  Not even most people and maybe not even you.  Not even if everyone gets trained in the latest, most coolest leadership capability model you or your CEO have read a book about.  Not even then.

The most effective leaders are born with baseline talents AND they do the work of building skills, knowledge, and habits of greatness.  Both are necessary and neither by itself is sufficient.

Gallup did a longitudinal study and discovered that the talents and strengths of the manager are the biggest predictor of employee engagement (which is a strong influence on customer satisfaction and other useful business results).  Gallup also found compelling evidence that very few people have the talent, and therefore the necessary strengths, to manage people well. While there is some trainability of competencies, someone either has the necessary baseline talent or not.  If having strong managers and leaders matters to you, you select for the presence of talent.

Well before Gallup made this discovery, Elliott Jaques noticed that people, by nature, have varying levels of cognitive information processing capacity. Leadership requires adding context, cohesiveness, and value to someone else’s work, and the ability to do so requires problem solving capability at a degree of difference greater than the worker. This problem-solving capability is something distinct and different from IQ.  There are ways to assess this capability in potential leaders.  Skills and knowledge are also really important for a leader’s effectiveness, and those can be developed and fine-tuned on the job.  What can’t be hurried along is a person’s cognitive capability.

What does this mean for you, the intrepid leader of a growth business? It means that if you don’t get a handle on how to find the right talent for your leadership roles, you will sacrifice your ability to scale well. Stop over-relying on previous management experience as a proxy for capability.  Start selecting for the things that matter most—talents and raw capability—and know that if you’ve got those pieces right, the person can develop the rest.  There are companies that do this and they aren’t telling you about it because it’s a strategic advantage.  Hope you aren’t competing against them!

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