Strategic Human Capital Insights

Do you really think everyone CAN lead? 3 Critical Success Definitions

Powerful businesswoman standing with back with business team at backgroundThis question has been considered in organizational development theory and practice for decades.  There are as many opinions as there are people.  Some say yes.  Others say no. To begin to answer this question, three key concepts must be uniquely defined by every organization. 

Since every organization is different, the definition of the concepts can vary.  However the following three concepts must be clearly defined:

1. Definition of Leadership - The Benchmark 

How does the organization define the role of the leader?  What are the benchmark competencies required for the role, as it ideally relates to and aligns with the business strategy?  How are those competency requirements prioritized?  How are people evaluated against the organizational benchmark? 

2. The Role of the Leader – How is the Role of the Leader Positioned into the Organizational Structure?

The role of the leader links the execution of work performed with the business initiatives.  The leader ensures that work productivity paces with strategic initiatives. Any flaws in either the definition of the leader or the organizational structure in which the leader operates will be revealed when business goals are not reached.  I have seen the most questionable people sitting in leadership roles – people who simply should not be there.  I question how they got there, and, given their place in the organization, what’s their impact on the organization’s strategic results?  After all, they are all linked!


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3. Can everyone lead?  Test your Assumptions!

Given Points 1 and 2, you can now begin to evaluate a leadership candidate against highly defined criteria relative to where in the organization structure this position resides.  Then, and only then, can you begin to determine if the candidate has the probability of operating as a productive leader.   Not everyone makes the grade.

Always remember, there is one key word that goes straight back to the title of this blog.  The key word in the title is CAN. Listed below are typical biases that can cloud the evaluation of leadership.  Make sure you don’t get caught in these three assumptive traps:

  • Everyone can lead – it’s the next step up the career ladder.
  • Everyone can lead since they were good in their former job.
  • Everyone can lead – they’re smart, so of course they can.

Leadership and Management Competencies 

The role of the leader is CRITICAL to the organization and its success. This role requires a person who is both outwardly focused and inwardly responsive.  Below are some key leadership competencies:

  • Business Acumen and Vision
  • Dealing with Complexity - Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Business Planning and Risk Management
  • Communication

Leadership competencies are very different from traditional management competencies.  The perspective is different.  However, we often promote our leaders from the management ranks as ‘their next step’. Do not assume that once someone is promoted to a leadership role, they will automatically either know or have the leadership competency skill set, to do the job NOW. And this is where organizations can get into trouble. 

Determining if people can lead is not simple, easy or fast.  The decisions reached regarding leadership are among the most critical decisions an organization can make. If an organization is to stay focused on key initiatives, then it must have the absolute BEST leader in EVERY leadership role. There is no room for error, accommodation, entitlement or legacy.  The right leader can make all the difference to an organization’s successes. The results can be legendary. We have stunning business examples of success. Alternatively, the negative consequences of getting leadership wrong can be equally legendary. Sadly, we also have many disastrous examples, as well. 

Getting the leadership issue correctly identified and continually reviewed is critical to every organization’s success.  It is time to put a rigorous process and discipline for the entire leadership process.  


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Topics: Leadership

Posted by Joanne Flynn

Joanne Flynn

In 2014, Joanne Flynn founded Phoenix Strategic Performance, a strategic human capital advisory firm. Prior to this, Joanne was Vice President at Goldman Sachs for 10 years responsible for global learning and development. She then led the consulting practice of Phoenix Group International, a consulting firm specializing in global financial service. Joanne is now taking best practices from the people-intensive financial services industry and adapting those best practices to startup and growth businesses. She is a thought leader in the areas of strategic organizational alignment, organizational agility, human capital gap analysis, leadership challenges for the new workplace and transformation leadership.

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