Magazine article New Zealand Management

A Question of Succession: How Boards Can Select the Best CEO: Organisational Change Expert Bob Rogers Talks with James Gray about the Dangers of Assuming Current Performance Will Translate into Prowess at the Top

Magazine article New Zealand Management

A Question of Succession: How Boards Can Select the Best CEO: Organisational Change Expert Bob Rogers Talks with James Gray about the Dangers of Assuming Current Performance Will Translate into Prowess at the Top

Article excerpt

Who gets to be the next chief executive is often a vexed question for boards. One of the more common problems is that they don't have enough objective data to make their promotion or selection systems work. Add to that, the notion that the candidate with an exemplary operational record may not necessarily be the best pick for the job.

Bob Rogers, president of Pittsburgh-based Development Dimensions International (DDI) and an organisational change expert, says the message he carries is one of identifying future leaders and their potential.

"A lot of organisations think potential is directly correlated to current performance, and it isn't. It's very different," says Rogers, who was in New Zealand on a short speaking tour organised by Sheffield.

"They are wrong about two thirds of the time, because there are other factors that determine potential at higher levels [of management] that have to be considered in the equation," Rogers says.

"Probably the biggest mistake we see in organisations in terms of promotions is that they will put a very good operational leader into a strategic role."

That person may have run a division, perhaps manufacturing, and were good at it. "But now we are going to ask you not to be an operational leader. Now we're going to promote you to the executive committee and we want you to be strategic.

"We want you to think three to five years out. We want you to think differently, and sometimes as an operational leader you get too locked into the data and you don't have a high tolerance for ambiguity.

"If you are not a conceptual thinker, if you can't let go of the day-to-day operations and deal with the much broader strategic issues, you are going to be a failure at this strategic job," he says.

Good companies have a way of identifying future potential leaders. "There's been a lot of research about people with potential versus good performers," says Rogers. "It gets in to a number of factors that people have that are very difficult to alter.

"What makes us tick is developed when we are kids, not when we are 35 or 40 years old." Qualities such as authenticity, integrity, learning orientation, ability to think conceptually, strategic thinking and a willingness to step up in a leadership vacuum to take a leadership role are determined in childhood.

"For most of those things, we can't give you them if you don't have them.

"We can give you planning or decision-making skills, or even some of the interpersonal skills or communication skills. We can develop those, but not these other things," he says.

Receptivity to feedback is a key area for senior executives, and Rogers says this is where the difference between a big ego and a strong ego comes in.

"Big ego leaders want to be on the front cover of Fortune, they want to take credit, they want to be centre stage, they want to be famous and when something goes wrong, they turn around and want to know who screwed up," he says.

The strong ego leader has the same degree of drive--the drive to succeed and the drive for results. "But because they understand that we are all human, they are more receptive to feedback.

"They care more about the legacy that they leave behind, building their team, doing what's right for their people. Instead of taking centre stage, they give credit to others."

When DDI wanted to learn how to evaluate potential, it went to American women's gymnastics coach Mary Lee Tracy.

"We asked her how she picks the girls at age six that she wants to spend time working with to try and make them into Olympians. …

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