How does a CEO grow future leaders?

‘Khun Kriengsak, I’m worried about our next five years,” Mana tells me.

“Why is that, Khun Mana?”

“By that time half of our leadership team will have retired. We won’t have enough strong talent to replace them.”

“What’s your plan?”

“I’m thinking about three developmental actions _ leadership training, mentoring and coaching. What else could you suggest?”

“When you talk about leadership, what is the primary role of the leader?”

“To lead others to places they haven’t been.”

“Okay, to lead people to the new frontier, what does the leader really do?”

“The leader makes sound judgements. Coach, what are the critical leadership judgements?”

“Great leaders exercise sound judgement calls in three domains _ people, strategy and crisis.”

“Coach, how will I develop my future leaders in these three domains?”

“Khun Mana, let’s use you as a case in point. How did you develop these three domains of leadership judgement?”

“From my experience.”

“Khun Mana, you worked for 15 years before you were promoted to chief executive. What were the experiences that shaped your leadership judgements?”

“There are four major factors that contributed to my growth _ a great boss, a tough boss, challenging customers and crises.

“Can you elaborate more on each one?”

“My first boss was great. He was not only a boss but a brother, teacher, coach and mentor to me as well. I was a sales manager under him for three years. He was very hands-on at coaching me in the first year, using an instructional mode, as I was a new sales manager. I was very happy, because it was the first time I had to lead so many people.

“In the second year he delegated more to me and in the last year empowered me to develop a successor to replace myself.

“My first boss was terminated after that due to internal politics. My new boss was totally the opposite. He was a demanding, tough and very rigid manager, an impatient expat. Half the people who reported to him left in the first six months.

“I thought about leaving too, but being an inexperienced manager, I was unable to go to anywhere. So I stuck with him. But his being so demanding was one of the best developments for me since it made me be very cautious with every detail of work. It was like going to a Marine boot camp for three years. I double-checked my judgement prior to making any decision.

“After my second boss was reassigned, I was promoted to replace him. At the time, we had a lot of demanding customers. They were international accounts with more bargaining power than the local ones. They squeezed everything according to the contract. I was so stressed when dealing with them.

“After three months, I called my team for a meeting. We discussed how we could do things differently to deal with these demanding customers. Eventually, we came up with an innovation business model. That was another breakthrough in my career _ I was able to unleash my team’s creativity due to the pressure from these tough customers.

“Then, came the ‘hamburger crisis’ in 2008 and the local political turmoil in Thailand in 2010. I was a new CEO. Most of my experience up to that time had been managing a business in growth mode. Crisis was very new to me.

“Again, that was a great test for my crisis judgement. I was lucky to survive because I was surrounded by great talent.”

“Khun Mana, what’s the learning point here?”

“Most leadership development comes from experience.”

“That’s true. How can you prepare your future leaders to learn from experience?”

He takes a book from the bookshelf behind him. “Coach, this book, Eighty-Eight Assignments for Development in Place by Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger, has some answers,” he tells me.

The authors identify nine developmental challenges that yield several leadership developmental angles:

– Go off-site to troubleshoot problems (deal with a dissatisfied customer);

– Start up something small (e.g., hire a secretarial pool);

– Run a task force on a business problem;

– Manage an ad hoc group of inexperienced people;

– Manage an ad hoc group of low-competence people;

– Manage any ad hoc group of people (people are experts, a person is not);

– Manage an ad hoc group in a static operation;

– Manage an ad hoc group in a rapidly expanding operation;

– Supervise cost-cutting.

“Coach, I’ll sit down with the human resources chief to come up with a good action development plan for each of our future leaders.”