Leading, Learning and Building A Legacy

My first corporate experience came at about fifteen years into my professional life.  I made the decision to toss my resume in the air to see where it might land. The company I found myself attracted to was a $5B global high tech company with a very conservative culture.

I quickly learned that this company – Company A – had a well-honed process they applied to discern who had ‘leadership’ capability and who did not.  Once you were ‘tapped’ as potential leadership material, you were purposely placed in situations to test your leadership mettle.  These situations often resulted in highly charged debates where your position or perspective was challenged publicly.  You were judged on specific criteria during these events.  If you were able to maintain control of your professional demeanor, effectively influence your opposition and hold your own intellectually, you became part of an elite group who were groomed and developed into a pool of potential successors to the current leaders in place.  While I found this practice to be uncomfortable and often staged, at the end of the day it did seem effective.

Those, and we all know them, who were masters at politics without any substance, didn’t last long in this system.  Those who worked the back office and demeaned their competition through the rumor-mill fell out quickly in this game.  It was like the college debate team on steroids and was positioned in ‘real life’ issues, which upped the an

te considerably.  This model values confidence, intelligence, influencing, communication skills and managing conflict.

My next corporate experience was at another large global company – Company B – in the automotive industry.  Company B had very sophisticated ‘people processes’ and took great pride in the analysis, application and results of years and years of development. They were much more progressive and cutting edge regarding leadership development.

They had a talent management system with a structured succession planning process. Quarterly, each division sent their twelve high potentials to a four-day leadership program. This program began with pre-work and each potential leader arrived at the event with their story, which must include a Teachable Point of View. The event began with a sharing of these stories, which demonstrated the ability to be inspiring through an authentic compelling story.  The rest of the time was spent on assessments, simulations requiring role-playing, being observed while networking, etc.

This might not seem as intense as the Company A process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The division Presidents who, ultimately, determine who attends the quarterly Leadership Program also serve this group up during the President’s Round Table annually.  At this meeting, each President and VP talk through those poised for leadership, the experiences they bring and experiences they need. This requires an in-depth understanding of each high potential leader. A list of open leadership positions is presented and people are slated for these position, on the spot, based on recommendations. Needless to say, many careers are on the line. This model values legacy building, compelling communication, political agility, drive-for-results and a high level of engagement.

Whether you deliberately create a model to identify and develop leaders in your company or not, one will emerge. History teaches us that leaders step forward formally or informally based on what is needed at the time.

Understanding your culture, your values and what is required for your company to thrive and grow should determine your methodology.

While I witnessed both models work successfully.  In my experience, I would like to believe Company B had the model that launched a more sustainable leadership model.  Building a legacy of leadership creates common language, values and behaviors that become embedded in the way the company works every day. Leaving an imprint on emerging leaders by handing off a baton based on integrity and character equips a company to face the future poised for success. Holding current leadership accountable for future leadership raises the bar on engagement, accountability and decision-making.

What have you done today to develop a legacy of leadership for tomorrow?

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