Does (management) practice make perfect? The role of tenure in growing leaders

While the path a developing leader can be unpredictable, complex and offer different types of challenges, the one thing they have in common is experience on the job. Everyone knows that becoming a good leader takes plenty of time—to grow those essential skills that only come from managing larger and larger groups of people and working through more and more complex problems.

Or does it? DDI’s recent study, “High-Resolution Leadership,” tested this idea across a pool of 15,000 respondents with varying degrees of management experience, and found that only a small number leadership skills are found in those with long tenure. Some skills are developable, and yet others intrinsic to the individuals. Their findings:

“High-growth skills, where experience translates into management strength: driving for results, inspiring excellence, and leading teams….On average, high-tenure leaders were 4.4 times more likely than low-tenure leaders to be strong on these skills.” Those with less experience have to learn to increase their dependence on others to remain effective, and thereby grow their interpersonal and motivational skills.

“Moderate-growth skills: coaching, driving execution, and global acumen. High-tenure leaders were 2.6 times more likely…to be strong in this cluster.” With a good development plan, leaders can grow these skills to some degree.

“Low- or no-growth skills with virtually no connection between tenure as a manager and strength: executive disposition, selling the vision, operational decision-making, and customer focus.” Tough to develop, even those naturally skilled in these areas often have to relearn good strategies when encountering new employee groups or a change in strategic direction.

How do these findings impact your hiring and promotion plans? When you identify the natural growth areas of your business, place your aspiring leaders there, giving them a chance to grow their management skills successfully before tackling tougher areas.  At promotion time, use a good assessment process to discover those naturally gifted with low-growth skills, rather than planning to develop those skills.  Lastly, keep in mind that those top leadership skills are rare, and will still require intentional focus and support.

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