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By Rhys Madoc, CEO, UHY International

May 2022

Are leaders born or made? It’s an important question, because if you believe that leadership is a genetic predisposition, you had better make sure your talent acquisition strategy is first class.

On the other hand, if you think leadership can be taught and developed in people, you need to have the processes and resources in place to give talented candidates the hard and soft skills they need.

In my experience, most businesses will mix and match. They will recruit new leaders and also promote from within. But the prevailing wisdom favours an educational route to leadership in business. Some people arrive in your organisation fully formed, with the talent, drive and charisma to be leaders, but arguably they are likely to be a minority. Many more will have a potential that needs to be nurtured.

Doing so is critical to moving our firms forward, and maintaining stability of knowledge – the foundations to grow. More than anything else, good leadership candidates can future-proof your business, and help set tomorrow’s agenda. But what does that nurture process entail? Here are a few ideas.


Identify the best candidates

How do you identify the next generation of leaders? In professional services, excellent technical skills are a given, but you are also looking for evidence of strategic thinking.

  • Do they come to meetings with ideas?
  • Do they proactively suggest new ways of doing things?
  • Do they have a grasp of the bigger picture?

Good candidates may naturally take the lead on projects, but not by being the loudest or most forthright voice in the room. Persuasion is often the natural result of good ideas and clear thinking.


Train them for leadership

Potential leaders will be keen to learn, and you should give them the resources that allow them to explore their natural curiosity. Management development programmes will target ‘hard’ leadership skills like commercial awareness and business development, but soft skills are just as important. Leaders don’t shout or snap orders anymore. They persuade and motivate. They know how to manage remote teams as well as in-house. They are the number one reason other talented people come to work for your business - and stay.


Give them reason to stay

You need a retention strategy targeted towards your very best people. One study found that the top 25% of employees are four times more productive than average – and up to eight times more productive in specialist areas (such as tax, for example). Good people tend to know their worth. If you undervalue them, they will leave.

This is not necessarily a question of money. According to recent Gartner research, people want ‘radical flexibility’, which means a degree of autonomy. They want to feel cared for, so you need a wellbeing strategy. They want to have a sense of purpose and shared values. Perhaps more than anything, they want opportunities for personal growth. In terms of your leadership candidates, this could be the clincher.


Give them a path to success

In short, your best people could leave if they do not see a path to progression. The end of that path cannot be in some distant fairytale future. Top talent needs to know that good work, commitment and the acquisition of new skills and knowledge will be rewarded with promotion. They need to know with certainty the steps they have to take to make the next rung of the ladder, and when - all being well - they can expect to achieve it.

Larger organisations may implement formal leadership identification and development processes. Smaller ones may follow more informal paths, but the result should be the same. Employees with leadership potential should know how that potential is to be developed and when it will lead to concrete progress.

At UHY a development priority is to encourage our leaders of the future, from formal and informal webinar and conference learning around succession planning, to providing an annual leadership forum in Spain. The UHY Forum has run since 2002 and forum alumni have gone on to achieve remarkable success in member firms throughout the UHY network. UHY’s current international chairman and the managing partner of UHY Hacker Young (London & Nottingham) in the UK, Subarna Banerjee (pictured) is an alumnus of the UHY Forum and there are many other alumni members who are now in significant leadership roles across our network.


Nurture first

Why is any of this important? Can you simply go out to the market and recruit the leadership talent you need? The answer is that often you cannot find the ‘right fit’ person – whatever the ‘right fit’ is! Variety of experience brings its own rewards to an organisation in the form of new ideas and developing culture. Fully formed talent is in short supply and highly valued (which makes it expensive).

In the era of post-pandemic working, where great employees and potential recruits have a new-found sense of self – and arguably more bargaining power – I believe that nurturing your next generation of leaders from within is more necessary than ever.

The good news is that your next management candidate is probably in your organisation already. You just have to let their promise flourish.


Image acknowledgements:
Best candidate: Photo by Kona Studios on Unsplash
Meeting, and Subarna Banerjee: © UHY International