How do you create space for your potential leaders to shine and influence upwards?


In the fourth blog of our series exploring developing high potential talent, TPC Leadership UK’s Associate Partner Catherine Bardwell and Associate Peter Wall focus on how giving potential leaders the space to grow and display their potential is an essential part of their development. 

Focus on inputs rather than outputs

TPC Associate, Peter Wall believes part of creating space for potential leaders to excel comes down to what their leaders perceive their role to be. If a manager sees their job as getting results with minimum risk, they’ll take the most direct path – often a short-term approach that overlooks investing in talent for the future.

But other leaders see it as their job to harness and nurture all those who are creating the results. In doing so, they enable potential leaders to shine, and the results look after themselves. “You have to be a bold person to focus on the inputs rather than the outputs,” says Peter, “but that’s what the best leaders do” 

Allow people to make mistakes

Allowing people to make mistakes is a way of giving them space. Peter recalls a leader once saying to him: “Peter, I want you to make mistakes. Just not too many and never the same one twice. Because if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks, innovating and learning.”

Being given permission to try things and get things wrong is liberating and gives people the opportunity to learn. It’s inevitable that even the very best people will make occasional mistakes, but “it’s about catching them when they happen, even when the pressure’s on” says Peter. That way you can create an environment where the emphasis is still nurturing and developing the inputs rather than just obsessing about the outputs.

Create opportunities for exposure

So how do you give leaders exposure to those at the top of the organisation? Even in organisations with a flattened hierarchy, there may still be an ‘invisible hierarchy’ within the company and its culture.

“Senior leaders need to have humility,” explains Peter. They need to possess the modesty to stand back at the right time and give high potential leaders the chance to shine. To create opportunities for them to take on high profile challenges but be there to support them (catch and help them recover from any missteps) and then publicise and celebrate their successes.

Gaining experience working directly with senior leaders will help potential leaders understand how their managers work and what is important to them. And having insight into those values at the top is key to being able to influence upwards.

“We have to do politics in companies, because it’s there”

Employees can often try to “not play the game” when it comes to office and company politics. But Peter suggests that this approach can work against potential leaders – “it’s better to recognise the politics and engage with it with integrity. There is a political game in play, so you can’t turn away from it.” 

Catherine Bardwell, TPC Associate Partner, refers to the “4 different types of political animals”, a model developed in the 1980s by Simon Baddeley and Kim James, to identify the political style and motivations of people in the workplace.

The framework categorises people as one of four ‘political animals’: sheep, donkeys, owls and foxes. Understanding the categories can help leaders with their own self-awareness as well as give insights into how to lead others correctly and fairly, in what is inevitably a political environment.

Company structures, politics and cultures vary across the globe. Alongside internal politics, the better equipped high potential leaders will have an awareness of how different societies function and the influence that has on organisations. Geert Hofstede’s Six Cultural Dimensions model is a good starting point to gaining greater understanding of how different cultures could be influenced by a different mix of factors such as power-distance norms.

Collaboration is key

An environment where collaboration and humility are prevalent will be one where potential leaders can excel and influence upwards. Leaders who choose to surround themselves with people who are more talented, or have different talents to themselves, will enable potential leaders to shine and impact change.

Working collaboratively while allowing high potential leaders to have autonomy creates the space they need to grow and realise potential. As Catherine says, “the best leaders are those with the best support network.”

Want more insight on how to move forward? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.

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