- Most institutions underestimate and under-utilize one their current staff
- Internal hiring should be an ongoing strategy to identify, encourage, and propel rising talent
- See related article: 4 signs you’re ready for higher-ed career advancement
Organizations spend thousands of dollars identifying and acquiring talent for leadership positions. Those expenses balloon with senior leadership roles. What if there was a strategy that could not only cut costs, but increase the quality of hire—and the outcomes they achieve?
Most institutions underestimate and under-utilize one of their core assets: their current staff. Outside hiring is one key strategy, but it is not the only avenue to executive excellence. Internal hires cost less in on-boarding while also bringing invaluable institutional knowledge. When your C-suite leaders have experience at different levels of your organization, they understand historic complexities, appreciate departmental strengths, and can identify opportunities for growth.
In order to be an effective talent pipeline, internal hiring is not a one-time decision, but an ongoing strategy to identify, encourage, and propel rising talent. So, how do you spot talent in your midst that may be ready for advancement? Here are four traits to look for.
1. Initiative. The average employee does what’s expected of them. Exceptional leaders do more. If an individual goes above and beyond in fulfilling their duties, you should take note. When an employee merely meets expectations, it shows they measure themselves by external standards. Exceeding expectations reflects internal drive. A rising star will be quick to address problems and take advantage of opportunities, even without being asked.
2. Creativity. Managers implement programs; leaders pioneer new approaches. Be on the lookout for employees who are able to see existing challenges with a fresh outlook. As higher education faces an increasing number of challenges with an ever-changing milieu, it’s more important than ever that leaders can innovate, adapt, and thrive. Imagination is an essential leadership trait.
3. Respect. What do an employee’s coworkers think of them? Leaders lead people. An individual can have the best ideas in the room, but if they alienate others in the way they implement them, they will not succeed. A rising star will be well-liked and admired by their colleagues. That’s not to say that a strong leader caters to the whims of others. Rather, they act with character and consistency that engenders goodwill.
4. Humility. High-caliber leaders are constantly learning and refining their approach. Hubris is a recipe for disaster. Wisdom welcomes and values the input of others. Healthy leaders-in-training not only listen to others, but seek out diverse perspectives. Unfortunately, each of us can list numerous leaders whose arrogance ended their own careers and had far-reaching implications for their institution. In an age of bombastic leaders dominating headlines, we can lose sight of how foundational and attractive humility is.
Once you have spotted talent and potential, how can you encourage it? There are many compelling approaches. We could list dozens. My agency works with organizations to tailor succession planning to their long-term goals. However, there is one fundamental program that should exist at every college: mentoring. Leaders at all levels of your organization should be empowered to invest in developing leaders. One-to-one mentoring is indispensable and effective. Successful mentorship programs encourage ownership, equip mentors, strengthen morale, and are not onerous in their time requirements. Something as simple as coffee or lunch once a month can increase employee retention and develop your talent pool. They also improve the job satisfaction of mentor and mentee alike.
Your organization should have formal structures to recognize and equip future leaders. But, that isn’t enough on its own. Beyond specific programs, there must also be a culture that understands and invests in an organization’s mission. If your supervisors care only about themselves and their careers, they will see potential leaders as competition, not allies. When your institution has a clear identity and invested employees, they will want to invest in others who will further its mission today and for years to come.
Developing your workforce has benefits for the present as well as the future. When you work to strategically consider and cultivate the talent within your organization, it not only strengthens the standing of your college over the long-term, it bolsters your appreciation for the caliber and character of the employees who devote themselves to the mission of your institution each and every day.
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