Leadership Skills

Playing to Win? Why Confidence in Your Direct Reports is a Must

None of us is as smart as all of us.

– Kenneth H. Blanchard, American author, business consultant and motivational speaker
When you flip the coin of leadership, what do you see?

Leaders on one side, direct reports on the other.

What does this imply? Shared responsibility in taking the organization forward.

Today, business complexity is at a different level. This calls for exceptional leadership ability, not just of leaders, but also their immediate second line of direct reports.

We are talking about people who can together navigate successfully through the rapidly evolving environment, and deliver extraordinary growth to enable the organization to thrive—not just survive or stay ahead of competitors.

For the relationship to work effectively, leaders need to have confidence in their direct reports. A leader must see them as their natural allies who don’t just man the right roles, but can also serve as a steady pipeline from the perspective of succession planning.

But does this happen all the time? Perhaps not.

Confidence is not contingent on performance alone. The direct reports, by all chances, are the top performers in their domain.

So, what does confidence depend on? Exceptional leadership ability. In the absence of leadership qualities, leaders may find it difficult to rely on their immediate subordinates. Dwindling confidence in direct reports does not bode well for the organization.

How can the requirement be addressed?

Clearly, a leader needs to select prudently. Filling up the second line with potential leaders in whom they have confidence is intrinsic to functioning effectively.

Brick-by-brick shape the building that will shape you: Things to keep in mind in building a second line of executive leaders

According to an article in Business.com, a US-based digital media company, it is very important for the leader to know which values are important from the perspective of their organization.

Selection should start by looking from the perspective of values. This is key to attract culturally fit leadership candidates that will contribute to workplace growth and engagement.

  • What’s the secret of success? Getting the right people on board at the right time.
    Begin with hiring if you are looking to source people externally for key roles that will report directly to you.
    Consult your HR head to develop a prudent leadership-level hiring plan. This will cover all stages, from the initial identification and screening to interview and onboarding. The methods and technology used for sourcing, personality assessment, behavior assessment to understand the psychology and predisposition of the candidates—all play a key role in deciding the candidature.
    Or, you can take help from executive search and talent acquisition experts, like Vantedge Search. We are strategic leadership experts and talent advisors. We specialize in connecting high-performers with high-growth companies.
    We specialize in finding leaders and in building high-performing teams. We work with leadership to recruit talent for critical, yet hard-to-fill roles. Through our solutions, we help professional service firms, emerging and legacy technology companies and mid-sized organizations across industries find game-changing leaders.
    We offer critical advisory and support in the leadership hiring process, including proprietary research, talent mapping and total rewards benchmarking.
  • What about turning to your flock? Internal mobility is the keyword.
    When external hiring or sourcing poses a challenge, you can look to using the talent at hand.
    Devise a robust talent or leadership development program. You can meaningfully leverage the resources available through incisive learning & development tools and techniques, such as immersive simulation. Besides, it will convey to your employees at mid-management level or at senior roles that the organization is cued into their career progression. Scalability is highly effective in employee retention, too.
    Many sophisticated tools and techniques are available to determine personality traits, leadership potential, and behavioral aspects. Choose judiciously, with your specific purpose in mind. These psychometric tests can help in obtaining detailed insights on personality types and cognitive ability, assessing perception/image, determining which roles would be optimal for the candidates, and in understanding own strengths and weaknesses. Leveraging these, you can reasonably predict how the candidate will behave in most situations or what will be their level of performance.
    Again, if facilitating internal development is an issue, executive talent development experts like Vantedge Search are just a call away. We specialize in coaching and mentoring for leadership development and employee engagement.
  • What are the to-dos? Whether internal mobility or external hiring, you’ve got to have a checklist of leadership qualities you’d like to see. All the more relevant, given the dawn of the remote working age.
    The checklist could include communication, inter-personal relationship building, conflict management, time management, problem-solving, to name a few.
  • Are you a bird of prey? Become one, especially if you are hunting for internal mobility or succession planning.
    Be vigilant and observe the top performers. Watch their parameters of performance. Is it strictly metric-driven, or do you see them going beyond the expected? You will know automatically what to look for.
    Once you’ve spotted, research their background. What is their previous work experience? What are their achievements? Is there anything that stands out as a leadership trait? Observe their work ethics and character to determine fitment for leadership roles.
    If they are in a leading position in their teams, observe how they function. Can they rally people behind them? Do they stand up for their teams? Are they able to keep them motivated? How do they address differences? Do they know the strengths/weaknesses of their team members?How incisive is their understanding of different scenarios developing in the business environment and outside?
    Are they self-motivated to push themselves, drive results, and take initiative?
    Do they lead by example, irrespective of the position they are in?
  • Are they moved by that subtle force? Do they have emotional intelligence?
    Are they authentic? Transparent in their communication and interactions? What is their control over negative emotions – worry or fear or hopelessness – when faced with challenges? Are they self-aware and humble, or are they arrogant? What is their approach to handling any issue? Do they take a 360-degree approach in addressing issues? How do they approach differing opinions? Can they collaborate and work in teams, or even better, facilitate collaboration between teams?
    Observe how they interact with their teams and direct reports. Are they supportive or prone to micromanaging? Do they encourage their juniors to take up more roles and responsibilities? What is their approach to conflict resolution? How good are they in sharing credit and/or facing brickbats? Do they stand up for their team?
    What is their understanding of current socio-economic concepts, such as ESG or DEI? Do they have a philosophy on which they can execute these principles? How aware are they of the latest developments?
    Assessing along these lines provides a window to the individual’s thinking process.
  • Have you tested the depth of the river? Tests and trials bring out the best. Put the candidates you have zeroed in on through challenging situations. This will help you determine their grit and persistence.
    Put them in managerial or leadership roles and observe how they fare. As far as their skills and expertise permit, assign cross-functional roles and responsibilities to them. Watch how they handle these. Are they innovative, or do they have an archaic approach? Do they embrace change comfortably or struggle with it?
    See if they are comfortable in executing responsibilities under pressure. Put them through scenarios where they need to rise above individual silos and think at the level of the organization. This is not easy. It could lead them to confront the management, or steer through conflicting opinions.
    This will help you assess their mindset and their drive to learn/scale up.
  • Seeing is believing. You cannot expect your direct reports to behave in a certain way if you don’t live up to their expectations or set the right standards.
    Lead by example. Walk the talk on all aspects: communicate with the team, listen to them; take part actively and get your hands dirty; build trust and respect in the organization by following the protocols and the processes; invest in employee engagement and in building a sound workplace culture; deliver on promises; reach out and consult when needed; be accessible.
    A guidance that is provided subtly seeps deeper into the subconscious.

To conclude

C-suite needs to have strong relationships with their direct reports. To function as an executive-level leadership unit that performs exceptionally, leaders must have confidence in their immediate second line. You would not want to spend your valuable time cleaning the mess left by inefficient leaders.

While this is easier said, the reality could be otherwise. With the business environment transforming rapidly, putting collaboration and team cohesion to test, the confidence of the top leaders in their executive teams may dwindle from time to time. This, even when the direct reports may be highly performing leaders themselves.

This is something an organization cannot afford if it has to emerge as a great place to work. Effective leadership is extremely important to build a robust workplace culture where employees thrive.
Leaders, therefore, need to surround themselves with the right people, those with potential in succession planning.

Leadership is not just about raking in profits. It’s as much about identifying the right people, developing them and nurturing their expertise to hand over the baton, if need be.

Leaders are known forever by the tracks they leave.