4 Steps to ensure your technical experts will make strategic leaders


May 27, 2021


Many organisations progress their highest performing technical experts through the ranks of leadership, but these people may not necessarily make the best strategic leaders.

Strategic leadership should be based on expertise, but it requires so much more than technical know-how. The best senior leaders have competencies associated with leadership, strategy and engagement.

  • Leadership
    Leadership qualities include being determined, assertive, and influential while being able to lead decisively, set high performance expectations and drive results.
  • Strategy
    Strategic qualities include being innovative, visionary, creative and focused on long-term opportunities.
  • Engagement
    Engaging leaders have passion and a positive attitude that they use to motivate and inspire, they work at developing a cohesive culture and being customer focused.

Most importantly, effective strategic leaders drive the vision for the organisation and build highly effective teams that are motivated and engaged to achieve the organisational vision.

So how do you ensure your best technical experts will make the best strategic leaders?

It is important to assess employees to identify those who show the most potential for leadership – expressed in their personality, skills, values, and motivations. 

The key is to start developing your potential leaders early, through an ongoing leader development program. In 2015 Deloitte observed, “Many organisations view leadership as a short-term…series of episodic events that are funded one year but not the next… High performing companies spend 1.5 to 2 times more on leadership than other companies. [They] reap results that are triple or quadruple the levels of their competitors.”

The consequences of sufficiently supporting and developing your employees as they transition to leadership roles is significant according to McKinsey: ´Nine out of ten teams whose leader had a successful transition go on to meet their three-year performance goals. Moreover, the attrition risk for such teams is 13 percent lower, their level of discretionary effort is two percent higher, and they generate five percent more revenue and profit than average. But when leaders struggle through a transition, the performance of their direct reports is 15 percent lower than it would be with high-performing leaders. The direct reports are also 20 percent more likely to be disengaged or to leave the organisation.”

Here are the four steps to ensuring your high performing executives will make effective strategic leaders.

  1. Define

While it may sound obvious, the first step is to define what a potential leader in your organisation should look like. What are the behaviours and culture you want them to foster? What qualities are deemed essential to success? What values are espoused by your organisation? A focus group of incumbents and subject matter experts as well as a job analysis survey can help you to define what you want from your leadership team.

  1. Assess

The most effective way to assess candidates for potential leadership is by using evidence-based personality and cognitive assessments. They provide insight into how a person works, their motives, values, and occupational preferences, as well as highlighting those strengths that can become problematic if over-used or when the employee is under stress. Combined with biographical interviews and engagement surveys, those employees best suited for a leadership development program can be identified.

360 reviews can also provide insight into the employee’s demonstrated workplace behaviours and their reputation as measured by their manager(s), peers, direct reports and other significant stakeholders. This provides a starting point from which to build a structured development plan.  

  1. Develop

Having identified your best potential leaders through interviews and assessments, the next step is to create a leader development program. The program should be structured, targeted, monitored and ongoing.

Meaningful coaching is an effective way to ensure your employees are developed and supported to transition to leadership roles. The key considerations for successful coaching include:

  • Finding the right coach
  • Understanding the employee
  • Linking personal improvement goals to organisational strategy
  • Evaluating progress
  1. Engage

Your potential leaders must have the skills and emotional intelligence to lead effective teams as they are the key driver of performance. While leadership skills can be learned, it cannot be foisted upon an employee as a requirement for career progression. For learning to be effective, employees must be self-aware with an innate desire and motivation to improve, and they must have the ability to moderate their behaviour to gain positive outcomes. They must be willing to learn, practise and improve until the changes are internalised.

For over 30 years, Peter Berry Consultancy (PBC) has been using an evidence-based approach to leadership assessment and development to ensure future leaders drive strategic and sustainable success in their organisations. Our team of qualified organisation psychologists work with businesses large and small to develop succession planning and leader development programs tailored to each organisation.

To learn more, download our complimentary ebook, ‘How to ensure your star employees become your superstar leaders'.

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