In search of tomorrow's leaders

Companies depend on a regular flow of leadership talent. But where are they to find it ...

Companies depend on a regular flow of leadership talent. But where are they to find it and how can they develop it? A research programme at London Business School aims to help.


Who are the business leaders of tomorrow? And where are they? The answer to both questions is a resounding “no one really knows”. This is a surprise because it has become something of a cliché to say that the future sustainable advantage of firms around the world depends on the identification of tomorrow’s leaders. The reality, however, is that existing management research doesn’t tell us much about the characteristics of high-potential managers. Nor does it tell us how organisations should look for and identify them.

This leaves organisations in the dark to develop their own ad hoc systems and practices. This probably isn’t an effective strategy for developing the leaders on which firms will rely in the future. All of which explains why in Spring 2002 London Business School launched the Tomorrow’s Leaders Research Group (TLRG), an informal consortium of 20 organisations actively involved in the identification and development of high-potential managers.

Early notable results include the finding that members of the research group believe that managers must play an increasingly involved role in on-the-job leadership development despite the insistence of many managers that developing people is not their job. The group offers evidence that the freeze on corporate spending will increase the impact that line managers can potentially have on the identification and development of tomorrow’s leaders. In conclusion, the research suggests, human resources (HR) and organisation development executives should see line managers as liberators of talent. This, though, will take some doing. Behind closed doors some line managers are seen as hurdles in the race to develop people.

In search of learning intelligence

A second significant finding from the research to date is the suggestion that a key indicator of future high performance could be the learning ability of highpotential managers. But – before we go further – we need to ask the questions: who are high-potential managers and where are they in our organisations? The answer – after a year of searching – is that we still don’t know.

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