As we discussed in the previous issue, leadership is much like an iceberg – 10% of it is visible, above the surface of the water, but it’s what’s below, what you can’t see and often can’t comprehend, that has the greatest impact on your organization. The top 10% of the iceberg is represented by the skills of the leader including technical skills to actually do the job, human resources skills to work effectively with others, conceptual skills to think abstractly and trust building skills to inspire others.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this may only be 10%, but it is a hugely important 10%. So, what makes up the remaining 90%? It’s the leader’s character. Thus, leadership is a winning combination of both skills and character. And, as an organization, you need people to lead your organization that have the right balance of both.

To get this right, there are some compelling questions that you should be asking yourself and your leadership team such as: how do we discover the leadership balance our organization needs, how do we discover the leadership competencies important to us? How do we evaluate what makes our culture, our culture and what does our culture value? I’ll bet when you start asking these questions you’ll find everyone has a different interpretation of the answers? A lot of organizations never talk about these things – they just blindly go through day to day operations without discovering how to run like a well oiled machine. Leadership seems to be something elusive, but if you want a strong talent acquisition and succession plan, you need to know what makes leaders successful in YOUR organization. So, how do you do that? I suggest the following approach:

  1. Get your leadership team together and brainstorm you organization’s definition of leadership
  2. Define the leadership skills and leadership character essential to success in YOUR organization
  3. Incorporate global best practices into your discussions  to widen the possibilities
  4. Gain consensus
  5. Develop a visual format that encapsulates the essence of leadership in your organization – one that everyone can relate to – an iceberg for example
  6. Decide how you will fill the leadership pipeline – what skills are you going to develop in-house and what skills will you hire for
  7. Select candidates based on character
  8. Implement a robust interview process to weed out candidates with the skills, but not the character
  9. Leverage your development systems to enhance their skills
  10. Challenge them to do the right thing – guarding their motives

Character is too important and too hard to teach, so do your organization a favor – select for character and train for skills. Need convincing? Think back to your last organizational learning and development class. How much time did you spend talking about character in that class? The likely answer is none or very little; why – because it’s elusive and extremely hard to measure. It’s so much easier to train a skill that can be learned rather than rewire someone’s DNA.

Still not sure you’re a believer? Consider this question: how many times have you selected a candidate based on skills, but terminated them based on character? Talent acquisition is your $1,000,000 decision so don’t leave it to chance. Be intentional and leverage your resources by selecting for character and then training for skills.