As illogical as it sounds, every day people make the decision to promote based based on seniority, likability, loyalty or skill in the area they’ll be managing - all factors that have little to do with the ability to manage. Knowing how to “do the work” and knowing how to “get others to do the work” are two very different skills. Managing people takes a unique skill set. Not everyone is cut out for the job.
Alisa Cohn, ranked one the "Top 30 Global Gurus for Startups of 2020," offers five key questions to help you identify those with strong leadership potential.
1. Does the person tend to fix things "right here and now" or does she step back to look at the system? A bias for action is a good trait. In early days when a leader is managing three or five people, she often can and should take care of things herself. The problem is that when she needs to manage a team of, say, 30, doing things herself is simply not sustainable. Even more importantly, if she is doing things herself or asking her team to do immediate one-off fixes, you can safely assume that she is not thinking enough about process or efficiency.
2. Has he demonstrated an ability to handle and simplify complexity? Having more people means more communication to make sure everyone is on the same page. All of this adds more complexity. Leaders who can simplify tend to be the ones who know how to pause. They are leaders who ask "what is the one thing we can implement that will solve 10 things at once?" They also know that over-communication is the only way to get their message out to their team so they stay aligned.
3. Does she create and maintain an excellent external network? A leader's lifeblood is his network. Having a strong network of contacts inside and outside of her domain area helps her get answers quickly, think through best practices, hire great people. If your leader has a great network and added to it over the years, that's a strong marker that she is also growing and learning.
4. How is he as a boss? A leader who can scale must be someone who can manage other managers. This requires many micro skills. Can he identify and then hire good managers who can lead process and people? Does he then delegate, empower, and hold them accountable? Is his leadership style more asking questions rather than telling people what to do? Can he communicate a consistent, clear, big picture message? If he has demonstrated these skills or looks like he can, he likely has the capacity to scale.
5. Is she a great role model? As your organization gets bigger and you elevate your leaders, they get more and more attention. They are on display. What do your employees see when they watch this leader? If they see a strong cultural steward, a competent and mature professional, someone approachable, someone who owns her mistakes, then you have a leader who seems ready to scale.