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Creating a Leadership Bench

Career Path
Personal growth
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

30 October, 2020

Bhavin Surela, Director of Engineering at Twilio, discusses his efforts to create a leadership bench by creating a program to enable talented engineers to be trained into leadership roles.

Problem

Many great companies are not doing enough to create opportunities for talented people in their team to train them into leadership roles. Some companies have guidelines that define responsibilities at different levels. However, these guidelines are generic and many engineers have to learn how it specifically applies to them.
 

I felt a strong urge to help engineers and decided to do so by creating a coaching program that would help them transition to leadership roles. The program would serve a twofold purpose:

  • Helped managers with how to spot talented upcoming leaders within their organizations.
  • It also allowed those talented individuals to explore the roles before officially taking it on.
     

Actions taken

I approached my GM telling him that I would be excited to start a coaching program for aspiring leaders. I was particularly passionate about the project because it was something I never had, but more importantly because I had amazing people in our organization that would greatly benefit from such a support structure.
 

To prepare for this challenging endeavor I started reading extensively -- articles, books, blog posts -- but also talking with other people and learning about the problem from all available sources. I was particularly inspired by The Leadership Pipeline, a book by Ram Charan who discusses how to build a leadership powered company. In addition, I would exchange views about the topic with my HR Business Partner, and my trusted coach, mentors and other leaders.
 

I wanted to start simply by creating a framework that consists of identifying, training and putting the emerging leaders in a leadership role for a certain period of time. It also gives the leadership team a clear way on how to measure their performance in this setting.
 

I sought help from my peers along the way. I created a forum and invited every manager and every architect in the business unit to share what were their expectations of certain leadership positions and how they would measure them. Surprisingly most came up with similar characteristics or qualities. I was able to compile a list of ten to twelve items with a set of matching expectations. For example, measuring team decisions, engagement in the team, technical proficiency and quality, etc. Since they were all involved in the process there was little or no pushback when we rolled out the framework with expectations and measurements.
 

We piloted this framework with some people in the program and started to track if it is helping. I noticed that the engagement went up and engineers were happy to know that there is a structure in place to help them transition. Also, our promotion recommendation to expectation rates went up.
 

Lessons learned

  • You can’t create an organization level change on your own. As an individual, you can influence at best to create a change in your team, but a larger program would require alignment from many leaders and departments.
  • Include different stakeholders early on and make them supporters and promoters of your vision.

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