Chasing Shadows to the C Suite


At the recent Conference Board in Chicago, a number of talent management professionals and consulting experts gave presentations on next-generation leadership. These discussions included a variety of topics, from recruiting generation Y and Millennial employees to social networking and overcoming the talent management gap as Baby Boomers retire. The common thread in these topics there were three recurrent questions 1) how do we develop next generation high potentials for senior leadership roles, 2) do we tell them they are high potentials, and 3) how will this impact their ability to be authentic leaders?

The general consensus from the Conference Board attendees was that telling these individuals was important for a number of reasons. Mostly, formal identification of high potentials allows employees to opt out of these programs if they are not interested. For those who are interested, formal identification may increase commitment to such programs. One of the concerns with telling these individuals they have been identified as the future of the organization is that they may lose sight of what they need to do from a development perspective today to ensure success once appointed to these senior leadership roles. Additionally, there is a concern about the ability of these individuals to be authentic leaders.

Last week my colleague Jackie VanBroekhoven wrote about the shadows leaders cast. These shadows begin developing early in our careers, and without careful attention and behavior modification they may supersede our successful initiatives and bottom line results. When reflecting on the Conference Board dialogue about high potential identification, the importance of shadow management could not be truer. In addition to committing to development programs these high potentials also need to commit to self-development and shadow awareness.

The current political environment is a great place to observe the consequences of our shadows in action. As we prepare for the 2012 election year the speeches and promises for change are in full force. Regardless of your political views, you are likely to observe politicians leveraging their confidence, charisma, and innovative ideas to change the current economy to get your vote. The question of authenticity comes into play when it is time to put these plans into action. Take Rick Perry’s current proposal of a flat tax plan. Is this the new financial strategy to save the US from the current debt crisis or is it simply a political message to take interest off his poking fun of President Obama’s birth certificate situation? What sort of shadow does Governor Perry cast and will this shadow impact his success in the upcoming election?

These leadership shadows are much easier to identify when people are in the public eye. Politicians, CEOs, and other public figures likely have these shadows following them quite literally when paparazzi are lurking in the bushes and standing in their driveways.

Public figures aside, have you ever thought about the shadow you cast? If others were to describe you when you weren’t around what would they say? Are you confident engaging and charming or arrogant socially dominant and risk taking? In addition to self-awareness and behavior change we all need to be mindful of these looming success killers or shadows that may negatively impact our reputation.

This topic of shadow awareness is particularly salient in the current workforce. Although organizations may not be identifying the next CEO or United States President in their current high potential programs, they are indentifying the next generation of leaders who may be tasked with ascending the ranks of the organization faster than their predecessors. That being said, these programs need to focus on developing the skills and behaviors for leadership, but also challenging these individuals to think about the legacy they want to leave behind and figuring out whether you’re afraid of your shadow is a great place to start!