Growing and selecting leaders – paradox, bias or both?

What kind of leadership qualities are growing in your organization? Both on the surface and underneath? And how do you select leaders?

You probably have it all in your toolbox; leadership competences, behaviors profiles and development programs, talent pipelines with bench strengths, succession plans and leadership reviews. Now that you have done your homework, data is gathered and thoroughly analyzed, conclusions are to be discussed with decision makers.

You probably feel that the processes and decisions have mainly been of good quality, but maybe not always. Behavioral science methods alone do not guarantee quality decisions. People are people.

Have you ever felt that all the data and evaluation leaves you even more confused? Ask yourself these questions, and put the data aside; What is it that we really want to achieve? Have you heard or picked up any signals of mistrust, beliefs, observations and interpretations made on the leadership selection process quality within the organization?

Let’s talk about some of the factors influencing the evaluation and decision making dynamics. The first point is to acknowledge that these factors exist and that they have a place in the process. Let’s not mask them by claiming they are judgements, priorities and choices. I still respect what one financial analysist taught me a long time ago: “Do not try to wash white with all the various colors in your washing machine, it does no good to anybody”. The second point is that it is your job, as the HR-professional, to make sure that the factors are communicated in a transparent way. It is your job to nurture process quality on the way towards the wanted leadership selections and organizational culture. Your role is to bring up the whys, what-ifs and hows. I encourage you to be a bold navigator in keeping up the manage by consequence-principle, even when it seems to be forgotten.

What kind of factors are there in the process, and can each of them be a possible source for bias? Here are three examples of factors that you need to manage:

1. Bias on priorities for direction and aspirations. Not having a clear view on the single most important leadership trait required in the leadership position, within its context and its strategic business situation. Why? Trying to get everything is impossible. For example: Do you hire for culture match for the as-is or to-be culture? Do you hire for stability or transformation? Do you hire for short-term operational excellence, or for new business development and execution for new market entry? And finally, is there a genuine motivation match for this with your candidate?

2. Bias on conveying facts and managing expectations. We live in the era of branding and storytelling. How realistic was the of a picture was truly conveyed to the candidate during the process? Were you truthful about what are genuinely unknown or uncertain about the role and the organization? And even if window dressing as such was not an issue, how was the interview interpreted and understood by the candidate. For example: When the candidate has a background in different company sizes, field of business or ownership and governance structure, the framework of the new leadership situation may easily be disinterpreted. This is because the mindset of an individual is a result tied to the different types of leadership environments. Also, reference value may be under- or overestimated in some of these cases. You hear what you want to hear.

Riitta Honkanen-Vaheri , VP Business Development, Patria

Riitta Honkanen-Vaheri, VP Business Development, Patria

3. Bias on the human factor on the selection and evaluation side. An example could be that there was a good personal connection with the candidate, which had an impact on the evaluation given. His or her competence and motivation convinced you, but you might feel that he or she is too different and that this unconsciously is threatening. You know that diversity is a company value, but a profile this different is overwhelming for you. Are you mature enough to identify and accept what your primary drive is. Is it ego, performance or control? Think carefully, and once you have acknowledged it, make conscious decisions with this in mind. Keep intuition on the table as well, since listening to the subconscious mind is important when making good decisions.

Selecting and growing leadership is a paradox. You get what you grow and vice versa. Keep navigating the leadership and learning path in your team for the extra mile, and enjoy it!