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BOOK REVIEW: Hone your high-potential leadership skills

May 26 2017 05:00
*Ian Mann

The High-Potential Leader: How to Grow Fast, Take on New Responsibilities, and Make an Impact, by Ram Charan

ARE YOU a high-potential leader, capable of leading a large, complex organisation? Then this is your personal development manual.

The author, Ram Charan, the consultant to many of the largest companies on earth, was described by Fortune magazine as 'the most influential consultant alive'.

Most books on personal development are focused on people way below those whom Charan calls “high-potentials” –people who will develop or lead a top-100 company in any country. The biggest challenge to senior leaders today is, Charan reports, “how can we stay relevant in this increasingly complex and fast-moving world.”

This book is a guide to building the skills and capabilities you will need.

Companies are fast realising that to reinvent the business, leaders with very different skills and ways of thinking are required. Until recently, business growth was essentially a matter of improving on things that already existed by increasing profits through cost-cutting, modifying products for sale to adjacent markets, or acquiring other companies in the same industry.

Radical transformations such as changing the business model, reconstructing the entire supply and distribution process, and so on, are non-existent in most companies.

This is not a book for high-potential people: it targets a small subset, high-potential leaders, in a variety of positions in a company. What makes these high-potential leaders unique is the huge difference they will make to new or existing businesses.

High-potential leaders are presupposed to have high integrity and superb communication skills. The real differentiator is the ability to multiply the energy and skills of others towards new and uncharted possibilities.

“They integrate specialized expertise, differing viewpoints, and narrow interests to create new solutions and make better, faster decisions than would otherwise happen,” Charan explains.

To hone your high potential, should you have the ability to be such a leader, requires you to take charge of your personal growth. Your company may well be too slow for you, or not interested or able, to grow the capabilities you will need.

The first part of this book focuses on the leadership skills you will need to develop. There are five critical skills: increasing the return on your time; multiplying the energy and skills of those around you; mastering big ideas as well as their execution; getting to know your customers, competitors, and the macro-environment; and building your mental capacity.

I will touch on only a few aspects of these critical skills.

Increasing the return on your time

There’s a limit to how much longer and more intensely a person can work before they damage both their health and their personal relationships. The only solution is to raise the return on the time you expend on work.

Once you are comfortable with employing staff who are more talented than you, you can increase the return on your time by hiring superb people and putting them in the right jobs. You will rapidly discover how quickly this exercise will give you more time for higher-value activities.

Your highest leverage is not process, organisation, or money, but people. Too many leaders settle for the “best person available” rather than pursuing the more demanding task of finding the best. Often, this is a result of not fully understanding the requirements of the job and commonly, how it may change over time, and continue changing.

“Focusing precisely on how you can help others do their jobs should be a big part of doing yours,” Charan notes.

With the team in place, you are able to narrow your priorities to the few that will have the greatest impact on your business. And then make plans for who will take these on - and when.

In every area of business, we now suffer from “information fatigue syndrome” which often results in decreased productivity, higher stress, and chronic irritability. To achieve a higher return on time, many have developed ways to easily track performance.

First, deciding what is important to know, and then constructing an effective dashboard to quickly and easily summarise that which is most important.

Lead the dialogue

The essence of group work is in the dialogue, but this can only be developed through practice in real situations. “You know a great dialogue when you see one. People are mentally engaged, and might even lose track of time. They are respectful of one another, but they don’t hold back on what they really think. There’s toughness to it, and informality,” Charan explains.

Leaders must develop and hone this skill, and ensure that there is the dialogue - so necessary for personal and business growth.

Build your mental capacity

Leaders can and must build their mental capacity, just as athletes build their physical capacity.

This has many facets from widening your lens, so you that you can identify opportunities and stimulate the imagination, to continuously learning, and engaging in “curiosity conversations”.

High-potentials need to keep extending the network of people with whom they have relationships. These networks are becoming increasingly important to everyday work, as companies need ever more collaboration between departments, partners and individuals.

The search for information and insight can be found at learning events, and through setting up news alerts that Google and many sites offer. They can be found by reading reports in magazines such as the Economist (my preferred resource). A basic requirement, however, is to stay mentally flexible and constantly make your thinking and judgements more precise.

This book is a one of a kind, a self-help manual for high-potential leaders, with depth and insights that are the product of wisdom, experience and access to the world’s best. I know of very few who are as credible for this task as Charan.

Readability:    Light ----+ Serious
Insights:        High -+--- Low
Practical:        High -+--- Low

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.

ian mann  |  opinion  |  book reviews


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