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Some larger companies have formal, but closely guarded, early identification programs which help them spot future managerial talent among younger workers. These employees dont usually know that they are a part of the plan, although some figure it out after a number of transfers, often lateral, from one position to another.

The companies benefit by accumulating a deep bench of managers, enabling them to fill unexpected organizational voids successfully without major disruption. The tapped employees benefit from higher compensation and by gaining a variety of experiences leading to a more extensive knowledge of the companys operations in a shorter time.

The process of identifying potential general managers is similar in many respects to the criteria used for the initial recruitment and advancement of any employee, but with more emphasis given to actual performance under deliberately varied circumstances.

A high grade point average in school does not assure future business success. Its not uncommon to encounter highly educated people who are excellent at memorizing data and regurgitating what they have been taught, but surprisingly weak in solving new problems or understanding the changing concepts and challenges of the real world.

A capable manager does not have to be classroom-educated with specific business school or technical knowledge to do the job well. By the time he or she reaches higher management levels, such formal education may well be out of date. Much more important are their attitude, performance on the job, habit of thinking logically, capability to innovate when appropriate, and the ability to inspire and lead peers as well as subordinates. As Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, often said Hire attitude and train for skill.

In making an early identification, upper management should ask itself: Is this person a problem solver? Can he or she think independently when faced with the pressure of their peers moving off in a different direction? Does she do the necessary homework and ask relevant questions before making important decisions? Can he sort through a complex mess of minor issues to find and solve the real problems?

If a worker agrees with higher-level supervisors instantly and regularly, cross him or her off as a candidate. It can be difficult to spot someone whose efforts are primarily designed to ingratiate himself, but recognizing this is an important responsibility if the company initiates an early identification program.

People who can think independently (within reason, of course), and who are willing to take the initiative, often make the best managers. But they must be left in each position long enough to live with the consequences of their own actions. If they are moved along too rapidly, management will not be able to accurately evaluate their performance.

A management candidate does not have to look and act like he or she came from Hollywood casting. Talent comes in all shapes, sizes and packages. As lecturer George William Curtis once said, It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures a prosperous voyage.

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