Transitioning to Senior Leadership: Building People Capacity

Build People Capacity

In our last three posts, we’ve explored the second mindset shift that leaders need to make to successfully navigate the transition into senior leadership. It’s a shift from a Problem Orientation to an Outcome Orientation. When leaders find themselves in a Problem Orientation, they tend to solve problems in isolation. They see an issue and they fix it. They see another issue and fix that one too. It’s a never ending process of tension and relief as problems arise and the leader swoops in to resolve them.

Post one focused on cross-organizational advocacy and the need to look systemically across functional areas toward an organizational outcome. In post two we explored strategic vision and becoming a source of vision, possibilities, and meaning. Shifting to an Outcome Orientation also requires the senior leader to build people capacity, which is our focus for today.

Build People Capacity

Building people capacity is truly about investment throughout a team member’s employment life cycle – from selection to development to succession. The real shift for leaders is seeing the work it takes to interview, hire, coach, and develop people as “real work.” Think about the time commitment to hire a new employee. Or the dedication needed to mentor and coach up-and-comers. How about the tireless hours of assessing and preparing high potentials for promotion. There always seems to be more urgent items competing for a leader’s attention, which is why most senior leaders fail in making the shift to an Outcome Orientation. But, building people capacity is never about the urgent. It’s always about the important. And, this shift is ultimately about multiplying your impact as a leader through the people you lead.

It starts with selection. Jim Collins, in his best selling book Good to Great, talks about three simple truths when it comes to selecting the right leaders.

  • First – begin with “who” rather than “what.” Because when you have the right people on your team, it doesn’t matter what your strategy is, they’ll likely adapt.
  • Second – when you have the right people, you’ll spend less time managing and motivating them. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed and motivated because they’re self-motivated. That enables you and every leader beneath you to operate at the right level.
  • Third – if you have the wrong people on your team, it doesn’t matter if you discover the right direction. You still won’t have a great company.

In addition to the “Three Truths” above, leaders have to hire people who are coachable. Even if a team member has critical technical and industry knowledge, without coachability, the team member will never achieve his potential. When senior leaders truly value the selection process and create a culture where others do too, everything downstream in a team member’s employment life cycle becomes easier.

It builds through development. To build people capacity, senior leaders have to spend time developing the managers and team members beneath them. It’s absolutely critical to the long-term success and scalability of the business. But, the leader has to see “coaching” as valuable work. That means creating clear expectations and communicating a consistent vision. It means being visible and providing feedback and recognition when coachable moments appear. It also means conducting regular one-on-one coaching sessions that are less transactional (e.g., task and project management oriented) and more developmental.

It scales from succession. Great senior leaders are constantly assessing their leadership bench to ensure people are prepared for their next role. They identify high potential leaders and provide them with the coaching, challenging projects, and career planning they need to succeed in the future. They also identify team members who are in the wrong roles and quickly find a better fit or elegantly move them out of the organization.

For the self-aware leader, shifting from a Problem to Outcome Orientation can be learned relatively quickly. And, when accomplished, can have a powerful multiplier impact on the organization.