x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Help the talent blossom

The Life: Identifying potential leaders early on and developing their skills gives companies a competitive edge, says talent analyst Eugene Burke.

Eugene Burke says an effective leader is the one whose core behaviours deliver the core functions for an organisation. Sarah Dea / The National
Eugene Burke says an effective leader is the one whose core behaviours deliver the core functions for an organisation. Sarah Dea / The National

Great leadership helps to give any company a competitive edge.

It is vital that organisations identify people who have leadership potential so their talents can be cultivated and weaknesses addressed well in advance of their taking on an executive role, says Eugene Burke, the chief science and analytics officer at SHL, a consultancy that measures business talent.

This means companies will be prepared for leadership changes and have a solid pipeline of well-rounded individuals prepared to take on the top jobs, he says.

In Dubai last week for the HR Summit & Expo, Mr Burke unveiled a new study conducted by SHL that identifies the top 25 countries with leadership talent today and potential leaders tomorrow.

Hong Kong, Germany and the United Kingdom head the list of countries that have effective leaders for today. The UAE comes in at number 21, the only country in the Middle East to make the list.

However, looking farther down the line at the potential supply of leaders tomorrow, the UAE jumps nine places to 12th position, while Hong Kong and the UK slip to 20th and 21st positions respectively.

The study was based on 1.5 million SHL assessments in 37 countries, completed by both job applicants and holders. Participating companies included firms listed on the FTSE 100 as well as small businesses.

The assessments provide a "really scientific, precise view of the potential of that person, the person's strengths, the person's weaknesses [and] what is needed to develop that person into an effective leader", says Mr Burke.

The first question, however, is what makes an effective leader?

Mr Burke believes there are four functions: developing a compelling vision for the company, setting goals, getting the support to achieve those goals and delivering success.

"The acid test of a successful leader is, do they bring success?" he says.

Then there are the behaviours that deliver those four functions, including the ability to build relationships, solve problems, communicate well, think laterally, influence, respond positively to change, organise, and motivate and be motivated.

And while companies have hired or promoted staff to leadership roles mainly on the basis of past performance, they must be more forward-looking, advises Mr Burke.

"Track record to date is an entry pass into consideration for leadership," he says. "That tells you, up to this point, whatever role they've been in they've been able to deliver against their objectives. But it doesn't necessarily tell you whether they are ready for a leadership role and it won't tell you about what their potential is for the future.

"I think many organisations realise now that knowledge, skills, understanding are important, but what really marks out an effective leader are the core behaviours that deliver the core functions for organisations."

The UAE has a strong pool of potential leaders for tomorrow, the SHL study shows. So it is important that managers work out who they are and develop their skills.

If this is accomplished, "you are going to be building a much more robust and sustainable pipeline to leadership tomorrow", says Mr Burke. "You are going to be strengthening the supply of leaders for the UAE and reinforce the UAE as hub of business leaders in the region."

The study also found that in the Emirates, 15 per cent of leadership roles are currently held by women. But farther down the line, the supply of leadership potential in the UAE is slightly in favour of women.

Globally, the gender difference in senior positions is 76 per cent in favour of men.

Mr Burke notes that many companies are now taking a forward view in identifying leaders and taking this into consideration even when interviewing graduates to fill entry positions. They are hiring people not just to fill a vacancy today, but taking steps to develop that person over the course of his or her career.

"Some [companies] are even more forward-looking," says Mr Burke.

"They are saying: 'Let's not wait for positions to open up. If we identify the talents, then let's create positions for them where they can start to shadow others and get that experience.'"