This week I wish to comment on the second scenario of my blog of two weeks ago. It concerns the ‘high potential’ person, newly-appointed to a CEO role, on route to a much larger senior leadership role. Let’s call this person “AJ.” He is struggling. Why? Is he not up to a leadership role? The firm’s talent reviews show he is. He has a great track record, and he meets the firm’s criteria for a senior leadership post. He showed that he was ready for a new role with more responsibility.

This scenario brings to mind a situation I experienced early in my career when I worked here in London for an American multinational that had a significant operation across the UK. A new CEO was appointed. He had previously been the HR Director of the US company. He too was identified as a high potential, and this UK role was seen as the stepping stone to a top general management role in the US. This UK role was the first non-HR role this person had held, and it threw him in at the deep end, as the UK was just entering a severe recession, which deeply affected the business. The big difference between these two scenarios is that the senior management team of the US company was a high performing team, comprising outstanding individuals. They were welcoming of the new CEO, and prepared to show him the ropes and support him. The US company also had excellent external advisers whom the new CEO could draw on. AJ you may recall has come into a situation where the senior team is not a team at all. They have barely formed, and they themselves are struggling to get to grips with their roles. No one is in a position to show AJ the ropes, or advise him on the cultural nuances of this organization.


These contrasting stories show clearly the importance of taking the circumstances into account when giving people accelerated development opportunity. In our fast-moving world, generic leadership models are no longer appropriate – if indeed they ever were. The better model for matching people and roles is to focus on the business challenges, and the skills required for achieving these.

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