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The trick to finding that hidden gem in your organisation

Leadership development should go deep into an organisation and reach even the best of the ‘silent’ talent

The legacy any leader can leave behind is a pool of future-ready leaders (iStock)

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In the early 2000s, I was invited to be part of a select group that would form the future pool of global leaders at the organisation in which I was working. This pool of talent had a three-tiered approach—it comprised established leaders, leaders in waiting, and those who would be leaders in the next three to five years. Such a capacity creation in leadership was rooted in the belief that it would enable the business to grow faster on a sustained basis. It was a bold vision that placed value on leadership potential that went beyond the upper echelons.

Personally, this was truly exciting at that stage of my career. It also provided access to various leadership interventions and investments that have helped shape my professional career then and beyond. It’s was also a lesson in how to nurture talent and build leadership competencies.

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In its annual strategy meet, this organisation followed the practice of inviting a few of the most talented young employees to be part of the strategy formulation. The thinking and contributions of these young minds in such conversations were considered seriously. They were valued as the leaders of tomorrow who would take the organisation ahead. Also, potential customers would increasingly be from their generation in the longer term. Hence, it was prudent to tune in to their frequency of thinking.

In various leadership team meetings, I have often pointed out that the legacy any leader can leave behind is a pool of future-ready leaders who would take the organisation to a higher trajectory. It requires an organisation-building mindset. Every organisation has “hidden gems” in its talent pool. Like diamonds, they also need an extended period to form and realise their true potential. Leadership development should go deep into the organisation and reach even the best of the “silent” talent.

At Tesco, leadership is being demonstrated by our colleagues at different levels through their contribution to our core strategy. Their impact on and progression on outcomes linked to the strategic priorities is valued and is recognised by aligning them to key performance objectives.

Being part of some high-growth organisations, I have seen that many of the best and brightest often get buried rather than elevated. The risks of such losses are higher the more distanced such talent is from the leadership core. They stay boxed into one part of the organisation—maybe, a project, large accounts, one function, a particular business unit and so on. It impedes their growth.

In environments of high dynamism and change, social capital or relational capital is a driver for success as per leadership research. While working with another organisation, we formed a pool of empowered internal ambassadors. Their mandate was to build a great place to work by partnering with the leadership and the larger organisation. These ambassadors formed an internal web, spreading across the different parts of the organisation. They also had a presence across different levels—from mid-management to new recruits with fresh eyes and thinking. The leadership agreed that in this pool were the potential future leaders. In my conversations with these ambassadors, I made them more aware of what was in it for them: leadership visibility to open future career opportunities, the possibility to build broader internal networks, learnings to lead through influence, solving real problems beyond their core comfort zone, and most importantly, building the organisation that they would love to be leading in the future.

Some of the best leaders I have seen find time to connect with talent from across the organisation. They listen, they challenge, they provide positive encouragement. They commit to coaching or mentoring. Such leaders take bets on talent beyond their direct reports by putting them on stretch assignments and unstructured problems to help accelerate their career paths. Some leaders also find value in reverse mentoring. The CEO of a large MNC, undergoing digital transformation, was candid to share in a conversation about a year ago that he was sharpening his digital proficiency by leveraging reverse mentoring from two early-career engineers. It was great to see the authenticity and willingness to learn from the most capable and not defining leadership by designations and hierarchies.

It is a safe bet, then, to say that the CXOs who would lead the firms of the future, about 20 years from now, are certainly outside the boardroom today. It’s up to us to bring them into it.

Somnath Baishya, people director, Tesco Business Services & Tesco Bengaluru

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