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10 ways to develop exceptional corporate leaders

By Jimbo Owen B. Gulle |

It\\\'s a typical problem for small entrepreneurial ventures and huge corporations alike: the managers, or the people behind the leaders, don’t really know how to run the business like the bosses do. And if they do have the core talent needed for the business, the successors don\\\'t have the other skills to make the business run properly--skills like managing other people or handling a budget.

Thankfully, for small companies and entrepreneurs who can\\\'t afford to hire consultants, research has been done to determine how exceptional leaders develop, and the findings have been shared to Filipino audiences by a couple who practically invented the field of leadership assessment. In a recent "human capital" forum hosted by the American Management Association (AMA) and Imperial Consulting, Howard and Sally Stevens, the founders of HR Chally Group, identified 10 key findings on a six-year study on the factors that distinguish exceptional leaders from the rest:

1. Four identifiable and measurable performance factors predict potential as an exceptional leader.
According to the study, that leader: a) Takes initiative, or is proactive, in a business unit; b) Has decision-making efficiency, which Howard Stevens defines as "I make decisions so I’m right 70-75 percent of the time, but I make the decisions quick enough that I can make a difference"; c) Inspires accountability and teamwork; and d) Has the willingness to take appropriate risks, which Stevens says "means you are willing to take a chance occasionally— not often, but occasionally."

2. Matching leaders to the right corporate roles is critical to their success or failure.
The study says there are three types of exceptional managers: a) Project Managers, who innovated and started new developments and growth; b) Production Managers, who strived for stability, efficiency and profit; and c) Critical Leaders, who balanced growth and profits to reach their vision of the future. The mismatch happens, the study adds, when some managers had the ability, "but their areas of strength did not match the demands of their role."

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3. The toughest challenge for managers: maintaining short-term results while still creating lasting value.
"What risk-taking means also is to maintain a balance between the short term and the long
term," Sally Stevens says. "If I have to get something done that’s really important to the organization but doesn’t have an immediate deadline, (and) if I don’t leave some distracting little things and not attend to them, to focus on this longer term project, then I’m going to lose out in the end."

4. Seven primary skills are critical for all leaders.
They are: a) Developing an overview; b) Creating a vision; c) Identifying critical success
factors; d) Objective self-assessment; e) Selecting champions; f) Establishing monitoring and follow-up systems; and g) Maintaining leadership focus.

5. Six different types of experiences are the best development opportunities.
They are: a) Rotation through the key functions within the organization; b) Guaranteed initial success in the first series of assignments; c) Access to a mentor; d) Availability of internal corporate sponsors; e) Interaction with a "den mother" or a person familiar with the unspoken, inner workings of the organization; and f) Previous work experience before coming to the company.

6. Direct intervention does make a difference in developing leaders.
It makes a difference, Howard Stevens says, "as long as leaders are matched with the right corporate roles."

7. The "best" leaders mature through four successive stages.
The stages, or "plateaus" as defined in the study findings, are: a) Developing self-responsibility; b) Learning to prioritize; c) Learning to delegate; and d) Learning to lead.

8. The employee development process must be monitored and managed like any other function.
Why? Howard Stevens says: "If you find people that are unlikely to fail, the turnover is lower, the efficiency is more productive, and we found (in the study) that successful people were the ones that overcame, or were able to overcome, the reasons that managers failed."

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9. Organizational culture determines whether exceptional talent should be "developed" or bought from the outside.
Succession is always an issue for entrepreneurs; what it comes down to is that they "tend to get tired of the business and get excited by something else," says Howard Stevens. Still, "very talented people are cautious to join an entrepreneurial firm because many entrepreneurs can’t let go, and (entrepreneurs) don’t give them the authority and the responsibility to run things," he adds.

10. Exceptional leadership skills can only be developed in "natural High-Potentials."
Besides their visible behavior and performance, these potential leaders anticipated and tackled problems before they erupted, delegated routine matters whenever possible (while consistently monitoring the delegate’s performance), motivated their subordinates while inspiring loyalty and commitment, and made decisions even when some factors or influences were unknown.

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