Another interesting article from Harvard Business Review, on leadership....
Organizations succeed by identifying,
developing, and retaining talented leaders.
Professors W. Earl Sasser and Das
Narayandas, who teach leadership
development in one of Harvard Business
School's Executive Education programs, discuss
the fine points of leadership development. Key
• Talent provides organizations a key
competitive advantage, but there must be
managers and a process in place to identify
and nurture next-generation leaders.
• Large and small companies may have a leg
up in leadership development.
Medium-sized organizations have the most
difficulty with talent identification because
these companies often lack the
infrastructure and human resources
• What separates true leaders from the merely
capable is flexibility in leadership styles in
order to meet challenges of the global
economy, rapid commoditization, and
Finding and nurturing future leadership
talent is a primary concern for most
organizations. How can they identify top
people, train them, and—here's the
catch—retain them? And do so in the face of
ever-increasing global challenges?
W. Earl Sasser and Das Narayandas,
Harvard Business School professors, are experts
on the subject as co-chairs of the School's
"Program for Leadership Development:
Accelerating the Careers of High-Potential
Leaders." PLD invites executives with ten to
fifteen years of experience to attend four
modules that focus on such areas as
foundational skills, critical business functions,
strategy formulation and implementation, and
For the organization, according to Sasser
and Narayandas, talent is key to competitive
advantage. And for the talented employee, a
huge challenge is to rise above a single function
and gain a broad understanding of the business,
especially as it operates globally.
In separate interviews, Sasser and
Narayandas discussed talent identification,
leadership in action, and what PLD does to help
hundreds of executives grow.
"Leadership by definition is a multifaceted
term," says Narayandas, a professor of business
administration with a specialty in marketing.
"Are you managing yourself, are you managing
upwards or the people below or laterally, or the
firm, industry, society? You can lead at so
many levels. That complexity is only going up.
It's just not a question of leading a small team.
It's about leadership in ideas, in actions.
"Add that to the fact that in most situations
people are dealing with the global economy,
rapid commoditization, and hyper-competitive
environments. So to be able to be flexible and
use the right approach at the right time and
change as the situation demands is going to be
tough. Not everybody can do it. That's going to
distinguish the true leaders from people who are
capable but not leaders."
Employees in large and small organizations
share one advantage, according to Sasser, the
UPS Foundation Professor of Service
Management and a member of the
Entrepreneurial Management Unit. These
employees enjoy access to talent-identification
systems. Big organizations can point to formal
programs led by individuals whose sole
responsibility is to find and mentor
up-and-comers. And small companies can shine
in talent identification too, as CEOs take note of
future stars. But medium-sized organizations
have the most difficulty with talent
identification because these companies often
lack the infrastructure and human resources
capabilities, says Sasser.
With or without talent identification
programs, how likely are future leaders to
recognize leadership qualities in themselves?
It's about leadership in
ideas, in actions.
"There are some that can see it in
themselves; there are some that need to be
informed," says Narayandas. "Talent needs to
be nurtured: Many times it takes someone else
who can recognize that an individual can think
beyond their job, can think bigger, and has the
potential to make a bigger impact. It's a
combination of the environment, talent seekers,
and raw talent together that bring the right kind
of people to our program."
What should future leaders
People often have a true deficiency in
finance and quantitative methods, says Sasser.
While PLD students learn a variety of business
specialties including strategy, finance,
marketing, and innovation, the point is that
future leaders often need to break out of a
function where they excel and aim for a bigger
picture of the organization and its world.
"If they are not trained the right way, they
can spend the next twenty years building deeper
and deeper skills in a narrow aspect,"
Narayandas says. "What they might not be
asking themselves, or pushing themselves to
ask, is: 'What if I had knowledge of other
aspects of the business? It would actually
inform my decisions in a better way. I could
pursue more productive lines of action for the
"Business is only getting more complicated.
Understanding the interactions of various
aspects of business becomes very important."
"Let's assume we have fantastic R&D
people," he continues. "They are building ideas.
They might never ask the question, 'Is this
relevant to the company, customers, and
marketplace?' Sometimes they might just work
with the budget they have on a potential
innovation rather than frame a problem in a
more informed way and be able to go to
management and say, 'Look, here's the business
plan. Here are the resources I would like. This
is what I think we can show.'
"So someone who has an understanding of
the capital budgeting process would be
immediately more likely to go down that line of
action rather than say, 'I've been given $50,000,
now let me try to do the best I can.'"
You have to understand what you're
leading, adds Sasser. Expertise in only one
area—think John Sculley's unsuccessful jump
from Pepsi consumer marketing to the top of
Apple—can be a handicap.
After your organization trains and mentors
leaders, how can it retain them? Talented
employees thirst for challenging assignments,
and they need to be listened to, says Sasser. "If
you invest in these people, you must give them
significant work. In a top management group
there are never enough leaders. Something is
always a stretch for someone.
"There are often conflicts between how fast
you can move and how fast the organization can
move you. If someone doesn't see mobility,
they may leave."
Adapting a leadership style
Not everyone is going to be another Jack
Welch, nor does everyone want to be, says
Sasser. Not everyone will be CEO some day,
and having an enjoyable and challenging career
doesn't have to mean becoming CEO. The key
to career success is to draw on a variety of
leadership styles at appropriate times.
Actionable Leadership, PLD's fourth and last
module, effectively holds a mirror up to
students and, with input from coaches and
self-assessments, encourages them to move out
of their comfort zone and explore the personal
complexities of leadership.
"The unit of analysis is themselves," says
In a top management group
there are never enough