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It's never too early to train high potentials

A recent HBR blog asks an interesting question “when is the right time to train future leaders”. This debate mirrors our own thoughts at Rock the Boat Consulting; it’s never too early to begin the process of leadership training in high potential candidates.
The best companies have programmes to develop leadership characteristics in their high potential employees starting in their late 20s with a view to supporting them with new training as they assume managerial roles.

It has been concluded in numerous research reports that it's never too early teach leadership skills. According to Zenger (2012), leadership development can be taught at any age - and companies wait far, far too long to begin the process.

Zenger Folkman carried out research of some 17,000 worldwide leaders participating in their training program, who hailed from companies in virtually every sector throughout the world. What was uncovered was that their average age was 42. More than half were between 36 and 49. Less than 10% were under 30; less than 5% were under 27 (Zenger, 2012).

The average age of those in management positions in the firms identified was 33, having remained in the same role for roughly 9 years. If these examples of individuals are not beginning a leadership program until they are 42, they are consequently not receiving any leadership training as managers (Zenger, 2012). There are many reasons why practicing anything important without training is inadvisable. Here are a few reasons why;
Bad habits are learned through practicing without proper training. Bad habits are picked up over years of practicing without learning the basics properly. Being taught how to do something incorrectly first time round increases the likelihood of practicing questionable skills.
Practice makes perfect only if done correctly. Practicing for hours doesn't automatically create excellent skills. Perfect practice makes perfect performance.
Those in management positions are practicing on the job whether you've trained them or not. Managers are leading people from the first day on the job. And from that day habits are being formed, attitudes are being created.

Fraser Murray, Managing Director at Rock the Boat Consulting had a similar experience in a global bank where "talent" was spotted in their late 30s and 40s. They introduced a BLTP (Building Long Term Potential) Programme aimed at identifying and developing leadership skills when people were in their 20s. It was very successful and subsequent evidence showed that when risks were taken to promote "trained" younger managers, they usually exceeded expectations in management and leadership roles, especially when supported by the right internal mentors and external coaches. Let's identify High Potentials at a young age and back them to the hilt. It works in sport ... the business world could learn from their examples.

Zenger, J (2012). We Wait Too Long to Train Our Leaders, [online] Available at; http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/12/why_do_we_wait_so_long_to_trai.html [Accessed 18 December 2012]