Are you ready for 2020?

That’s the date the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the United Kingdom has declared as the deadline for filling the leadership void that will be left by the last of the retiring baby boomers.

The truth is, most organisations are nowhere near ready and many are simply ignoring the issue, hoping it will somehow fix itself.

The good news is, it is not too late — if you start now.

Choosing the right people to nurture as your next crop of leaders requires some thought if you want a productive team that can lead your organisation to success.

Notice I said “lead”, not “manage”. There is a big difference.

Not everyone with potential should be on the path to leadership.

Some will instead make highly competent managers but not leaders.

Others should stay in the technical stream and become experts in their areas of speciality.

Then there is another select group that will make excellent trainers for your young technicians.

Your mission is to figure out who belongs on which path, so they don’t waste valuable time, money and resources heading off down the wrong path only to find they have to turn back or get stuck halfway with no means of escape!

There are right and wrong ways of choosing leaders.

The wrong ways to choose

One of the reasons organisations find it difficult to develop engaging leaders is the way people are chosen for the role.

Traditionally, organisations have used ineffective criteria such as:

• Technical skills: Taking your most technically competent person and assuming he will make a good leader rarely works. Those are two completely different skill sets.

• Length of service: The old seniority model is still alive and well in some industries. Just because you have been around the longest does not mean you have what it takes to lead. Plus, not everyone sees the role as a reward; some view it as a burden they don’t want to take on.

• Age: The theory here is that older is better than younger. This has come about because there is a misconception that people expect their leader to be older than them. Age does not always equate to leadership ability and there are many examples of young people who lead mature teams successfully.

• Popularity: Taking the most popular person on the team and making him the leader may seem like the right thing to do but it can create problems if the person is not willing to deal with the big issues.

• Pay rise required: Some poor souls end up in leadership positions because it is the only way for their organisation to give them a pay rise. Their pay structure is so limited they are forced into a promotion everyone knows is wrong and then left there to rot.

The right ways to choose

So if the above are all the wrong reasons, what are the right ways to choose your future leaders?

Here are six factors you should be looking at:

• Agreeable:

It might seem obvious but start by asking the question: “Do they want to do it?”

A person who aspires to lead will start with a natural advantage — desire. This is something that cannot be taught.

• Compatible: Not all leaders suit all environments and what works for you today may not work in the future. You need to check if a potential leader’s personal style will grow with your changing organisational culture.

• Capable: Look for people who are already demonstrating a level of skill as a leader or the ability to develop in the required areas. Ask yourself: “Are they able to take constructive feedback?”

• Stable: Don’t assume that your offer to cultivate someone as a future leader will fit in with his plans. Find out if he intends to be around five to 10 years from now.

• Adaptable: Can they adapt to the changing environment around them? This is an essential quality of great leaders. The best leaders are good at dealing with low order and high chaos.

• Personable: Without the right people skills, a leader will never succeed in his role. A leader must be able to bring people along on the journey with him. Remember, without followers you aren’t a leader.

Next steps

As you put in place your plans to nurture the next crop of engaging leaders, think carefully about how you choose them.

Get it right and your organisation will bloom.

Get it wrong and you could have an unattractive and unproductive organisation that will not grow to its full potential.

A healthy culture is the starting point for any successful organisation, just as good soil is essential for a successful garden.

If you have ever worked in an organisation with an unhealthy culture, you will understand the impact that culture can have on performance.

As a leader, digging into your culture can be a very revealing exercise that you should do on a regular basis if you want to keep your organisation healthy.

Article by Karen Schmidt, an award-winning speaker, workshop leader and facilitator with Training Edge International. For more information, e-mail or visit