Would a manager with a consistent track record of achievement in established businesses be a better leader than a manager with a variable track record in new businesses? Should a relatively younger manager be picked as a leader over a more experienced manager? Should a manager with some failures be preferred to a manager with no major failure while choosing a leader? Should a rather data oriented manager be preferred over a one with a vision and risk taking ability? These decisions may not be new while developing a leadership pipeline for firms; however what could be new is the approach they could adopt for making such complex decisions.
Leadership identification process adopted by firms so far may have followed some combination of the following -- assessment of a potential leader's career achievement in terms of teams built and lead, businesses developed, value created, followed by a leadership assessment with or without formal tools. This process would very likely provide a sort of leadership potential map for choosing future leaders. However the issue remains that for how many of the questions on leadership raised in the beginning would this map provide answers to.
A consistent pattern in the past need not necessarily indicate success in the future while a not so consistent record need not point towards a future failure. If we went by the premise that leaders evolve over a period of time a snapshot assessment does not seem appropriate for identifying future leaders. Also the influence of the context of work on the leadership development is not readily noticed by such assessment techniques. Take for example a manager who has been assigned a series of turnaround assignments for loss making units; it would be rather difficult for this manager to suddenly exhibit vision in a subsequent assignment. Likewise a manager who has been working with established businesses for a period may not find it easy in a new business launch assignment. Similarly, a manager who as part of a business group is being rotated across businesses may always find leading a new set of managers every few years not an easy task.
How does a leadership assessment process factor in these multi-dimensional longitudinal influences to develop a sort of normalized leadership index or dashboard. Complexity techniques using requisite variety and random processes hold promise for developing such schemes. Hidden Markov models could be used to classify, segment, and unearth latent patterns from a multi-dimensional leadership potential map. This when combined with the 'requisite variety' approach using longitudinal influences would provide predictive insights in leadership potential. Firms could use such an approach to develop a leadership pipeline.
The author is Associate Professor, Strategy, Complexity Research Group, IFMR, Chennai