Good Leaders Can Transform Businesses: Here’s How to Find and Keep Them

When it comes to the success of a company, you cannot overestimate the importance of effective leaders. In fact, organizations with quality leadership are 13 times more likely to succeed, according to Dan McCarthy, director of Executive Leadership Programs at the Paul College of Business and Economics, the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

A quality business leader is much more than a figurehead. After all, a good leader shapes corporate culture, brings out the best in your staff, and drives your company toward its goals. A bad leader, on the other hand, can drag the whole company down. As Renaissance Executive Forums Dallas reports, “’Bad bosses’ cost U.S. companies an estimated $360 billion each year due to stress-related health expenses, productivity losses, and the costs associated with high employee turnover rates.”

That’s why it’s critical for companies to invest time and effort into a strategy for finding high quality leaders and keeping them. “The most important factor in employee engagement is the relationship between an employee and his or her manager. Effective leaders have more productive and engaged teams, boost morale and increase retention. We believe that finding and developing leaders cannot be a one-time two-day event. It has to be a program over time that reinforces behavior and allows the teachings to be implemented and grounded into the business,” says Jessica Nelson-Surber, founder of Voyig, LLC.

Know Who You’re Looking For – and Know How to Attract Them

The process of finding quality leaders should start with a serious consideration of the kind of leader your organization needs. Take the time to time identify the values and core competencies you believe your leaders should have.
In general, good leaders are:

• Trustworthy
• Good communicators
• Decisive
• Able to set clear goals
• Excellent at engaging subordinates

Once you’ve identified the core competencies critical to your organization, recruit with those competencies in mind. Write a clear, detailed job description that covers what your organization does, along with the job requirements and expectations. Proactively search for qualified talent from multiple sources, from social media sites to networking connections. Screen each candidate carefully before moving on to the interview stage.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to make your position and company appealing to the best, most qualified leaders. Your job description should spell out the upsides of joining your organization, from your corporate culture to leaders’ creative control and understand that if you want talented leaders, you’ll need to be prepared to offer a competitive salary and benefits. “Underpaying is one of the worst compensation policies that can be implemented during the recruitment process,” says Ken Sundheim, a staff recruitment and sales writer for Forbes. “Money isn’t everything, but it sure is something.”

Another “something” on Sundheim’s list: Flexibility. While you shouldn’t settle for candidates who don’t have the core competencies you need, don’t limit your options by being overly rigid on your background requirements, he warns. If you hold out for candidates who have 20 years of experience, for example, or someone who has completed specific certification trainings, your search is likely to drag on far too long.

Sundheim recommends that, instead of focusing narrowly on very specific work experiences, hiring managers should “think of applicants as stocks – recruiting on future potential rather than what they can do at this moment.”

Consider Hiring From Within

Speaking of potential, don’t forget that you very likely have strong future leaders within your company’s existing talent pool. These are professionals who already understand your company culture and objectives, says Darrielle Ehrheart, physician practice manager at Stanford Children’s Health.

Unfortunately, Ehrheart says, many companies struggle when it comes to promoting from within. “It seems that many companies are starving for great leadership but don’t know how to identify those employees with great potential who are literally standing right in front of them,” says Ehrheart, who regularly mentors and coaches employees. “In fact, in an organizational survey, 45% said they had no formal process for identifying potential leaders.”

Ehrheart encourages organizations to develop a program specifically for identifying employees with leadership potential, and then to give those budding managers and executives opportunities to practice and strengthen their leadership skills. The result could very well be a pipeline of highly capable leaders who are ready to grow with your organization on a long-term basis. “Surveys show that 95% of those that are formally identified as a ‘high potential’ employee are motivated by their jobs, and 96% are committed to the organization,” Ehrheart says. “Additionally, identifying great leaders who want to surround themselves with and cultivate/produce other leaders will increase productivity and engagement of others.”

Provide Guidance and Recognize Success

Of course, the process of developing strong leaders doesn’t stop with internal programs – or even the hiring process. Take the time to help your newest leaders find their footing and excel. Make sure they understand what’s expected of them in their position and how they’ll be impacting the organization as a whole. Train them, encourage them, and connect them with a coach or mentor who can guide them toward success.

“Coaching should include both informal (real time) and formal (performance reviews) feedback against desired skills and behaviors,” says Tom Feeny in “5 rules for finding – and keeping – great leaders,” in a recent issue of Smart Business.
It’s also important, Feeny says, to recognize leaders frequently for their successes. “Shout it out from the rooftop!” he says. “An annual awards program isn’t enough. There should be acknowledgements every step of the way.” That type of recognition, when deserved, shows the leaders on your team that they’re doing right and they’re valued, making them more likely to stick around.

Along the same lines, consider a financial reward system for your leaders to reinforce core competencies. “Putting your money where your mouth is – that’s how you inspire great leaders,” Feeny says.

In addition to providing guidance and rewards, it’s also important to provide newly hired leaders with the opportunity to actually lead. “Give them the authority to make decisions, including spending money, hiring, and firing staff, and setting direction for their areas of responsibility,” says Tim Stevens, an executive search consultant at Vanderbloemen Search Group and the author of Fairness is Overrated and 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.

After that, stand back. “Get the heck out of the way and let them lead,” Stevens says.

Worth the Investment

These efforts to find, cultivate, and keep great leaders do represent a significant investment in time and resources, but the return on investment will be significant as your quality leaders drive your company toward success.

A final thought on good leadership: It benefits the company as a whole. A recent Forbes article on leadership puts it like this: “With good leadership, corporate culture isn’t forced, it is developed. Communication is daily and open. Everyone understands the vision and goals of the organization, and everyone has input into how they can be improved…The result of good leadership is high morale, good employee retention, and sustainable, long-term success.”