What does it take to hire effective leaders – or any new employee for that matter?

hire effective leadersManagers tend to be a bit myopic when filling front line manager positions.  Senior management and HR seem to agree. In the DDI Finding the First Rung study, only 31 percent of HR professionals and leaders felt their leadership selection system is effective.  The results tell the story – 60 percent of first-time managers fail, according to Corporate Executive Board surveys. The number is even higher in other surveys.

The DDI study may provide some answers. It found that 33 percent of managers got their first leadership position was because they were “the best technical expert.” Is this anyway to hire effective leaders? Their promotion was significantly influenced by what people knew and what they did.  A successful job profile however is defined by four factors:

Knowledge – what the person knows
Experience – what the person has done
Potential – what the person can do
Disposition – who the person is

Few managers assess the last 2 factors:  competencies (potential and transferrable skills) and personal qualities and motivations.   This heavy reliance on technical expertise drives promotion of individuals who are not yet equipped with the leadership skills they need to be effective.

When their leadership performance was compared to all front line leaders, the technical experts have significant higher percentages of development needs in seven out of nine essential leadership competencies.  These leadership gaps impact their ability to build high performing teams due to poor relationship management, delegation, conflict resolution, and coaching skills.

According to DDI’s Assessment Data, the percent of all managers requiring improvement in competencies driving individual performance (judgment, planning and organizing, influencing, and problem analysis) ranged from 21 to 26 percent. Over half of these managers had development needs in competencies like empowerment, delegation and guiding interactions.  Nearly one in four needed improvement in managing relationships and just under one-third needed in improvement in coaching for improvement and coaching for success.

The primary responsibility of a manager is to get things done.  As technical experts, these individuals were rewarded on results driven by individual contribution and sometimes collaboration. But as managers, results are derived from expertise in managing and developing other people – skills that technical experts often don’t have in their natural ability toolbox and they won’t get without personal and professional development.  The need for development was significantly higher in managers promoted for technical expertise than competencies and personal qualities.

For example, organizations rely on front line leaders to execute strategic initiatives.  But 88 percent of technical experts lack competence in guiding interaction (compared to 54 percent of all managers), 69 percent in coaching for improvement (compared to 32 percent), and 68 percent in empowerment and delegation (compared to 55 percent). Over half the technical experts had developmental needs in managing relationships.

These trends are unsettling. It’s clear organizations must commit to leadership developing if they expect to hire effective leaders.