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Michael Useem

Michael Useem

Michael Useem is Professor of Management and Director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Listen to the Team

Most organizations have underappreciated talent at most levels. That's partly a product of the challenge that any coach, executive, or administrator faces: With dozens if not hundreds of performers in the ranks, the top person typically has imperfect data on who is best.

When it comes to company leadership, for instance, academic research offers a cautionary tale. Many firms collect information on a manager's leadership potential by asking for an evaluation by his or her boss, peers, and subordinates. The most valid data for predicting future leadership performance, the research suggests, comes not from the manager's boss but from the subordinates. In other words, the top person is often less effective at identifying leadership talent than those who are most immediately affected by it.

The process of reaching well down in the ranks to appreciate who would be strongest can be seen in the executive succession last year at the large pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline. The retiring CEO and board knew they had three very good candidates in the ranks. To ensure that they picked the best, they brought in an outsider to interview 14 company executives who had worked directly with all three candidates. What were each of the three candidates' strongest and weakest leadership capacities, the outsider asked. Whose capabilities best fit the company's future needs?

With this and other information, the CEO and board picked the manager who had been considered a somewhat unlikely winner, in part because he was the youngest, becoming CEO at 43.

By reaching down the ranks and asking who would be best at the top, by discounting conventional wisdom and finding out who really has the potential for become a winning quarterback, leaders of organizations and teams are more likely to make the right pick. Just look at Kurt Warner and the Cardinals.

By Michael Useem

 |  January 27, 2009; 8:41 AM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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