I have a simple test that I occasionally use to figure out if an executive is a reasonable leader. It’s one that is useful sometimes (organizational situations may make this a difficult test to pass). That test is; do any former employees follow the executive to his/her new company. Now this test is really a single attribute test – it highlights whether employees will follow someone to a different company (hence the ‘leader’ title). It DOESN’T test for the reasons behind the employee moves, quality of the leadership, or the direction of the migration (did the employee follow the leader or did the leader pay the employee to follow).
Regardless, employees following executives to new opportunities is an indicator of leadership and team commitment. I’ve thought about this from time to time as I’ve experienced different executives and have really paid attention to the ones that have teams around them that are willing to move to new roles with the leadership. Why is it that some executives join a firm and people from the old firm send in resumes right away and other executives join a firm and there is no trace of their former employee base anywhere around? I also wonder about companies that hire executives with a track record of bringing people with them to manage existing teams. Sometimes this works well and sometimes it can be an organizational disaster.
My view is that this comes down to two different attributes; leader with broad group interest vs. self-focused leader and team building need vs. existing team leadership need. These are important attributes to understand because they will help illuminate what opportunities and risks new executives may bring to your emerging organization.
In some cases, organizations have teams in place that needs executive management and there is a desire NOT to bring on an executive that has a ‘ready-to-go’ team ready to follow. Bringing on an exec with strong former team loyalties and structures may be inviting massive churn into your organization as the executive brings on ‘their team’ and moves out existing employees.
In other cases, an executive may be needed to build a new capability or organization and an executive that has a rolodex of experienced people willing to follow him/her would speed up the team development and reduce organization ramp time.
Sometimes a team exists with solid performers but there is not the experience, strategic planning/vision capability, industry relationships, or management capacity and a strong executive is needed. In that case, an executive that has a good track record of management but not a ‘ready team’ may be preferred.
Many times executives are hired based on their personal accomplishments rather than the organizational leadership and development skills that they have. It’s important when hiring executives for startups and emerging businesses that consideration is given to the type of leader being hired. It’s important for both the health of the business and for the likely outcome of the executive hire.