How to Tackle the Tech Leadership Shortage by Embracing Stretch

Canada’s home-grown tech economy is booming. We have more startups than ever, and more scale up companies who are raising money — or better yet, growing revenues — to fuel expansion. And alongside this success we see companies like Microsoft and Uber announcing big plans to grow in Canada.

We can celebrate this growth for sure. But there is a downside.

More companies means more demand for a finite supply of talent. We now have hundreds of companies vying for the same group of industry veterans. The pool of experienced professionals, especially leaders who bring valuable lessons from the successes and failures of the past, can never keep up.

Can you land the most experienced leaders? And if not, can you build your business without leaders who have done it all before? Who will develop great teams and help you navigate growth? If you do everything possible to become the best place to work, will it that be enough?

I think that the real challenge goes beyond conquering supply and demand.

What Leaders Want:

Let’s paint the picture … You have a great story, huge market opportunity, lots of funding — and you need an experienced exec to navigate you through the challenges of growth. Your ideal candidate has done this before, and comes with the pedigree of successful big name wins on their resume.

It is super tempting to line up the list of what needs to get done, then look for the resume that includes all of these as accomplishments. This feels like a great way to manage risk and ensure a great outcome. So you find that rare person, pitch your job and, despite being the hottest company, she says “No thanks”.

But why?

When we ask accomplished tech leaders why they would want to leave their job, the typical response is “I’m no longer challenged. My learning has plateaued and I want to do what I love, but also try something new.”

No wonder that your offer to repeat the past falls flat. The best, most successful leaders in tech are looking for a new mountain to climb. These leaders love to learn, they want to build on their successes and stay on the edge of their comfort zone.

They are craving the stretch.

And in fact, if you find someone who is happy to repeat the past, beware! A veteran who simply brings an old playbook is a liability in a business that needs innovation and create new ways to solve problems. A highly capable rookie will outperform that veteran every time.

So What Do You Look For?

Here’s my advice:

Think through every new role you’re looking to fill. Then differentiate between the absolutely critical experience and the aspects of the job that the right person can learn and stretch into.

Don’t let the talent shortage bring you down. Define where and why you need a veteran. Find out how your ideal candidates want to grow and what challenges they crave. Then define the role in a way that leverages experience and offers stretch. Then support that learning with the safety and space to try new things, ask questions and make mistakes.

Here are 4 traits to look for in a leader who may lack experience but can own the stretch:

  1. A history of constant learning and embracing new challenges
  2. Resilience
  3. Resourcefulness
  4. A balance of confidence and humility

Embrace a learning curve and you’ll find a much bigger pool of exceptional people who have the what it takes to succeed. As a HUGE BONUS, in this pool you’ll find more women and more diversity. You’ll find people who come to your organization with passion and creativity and loyalty. And the best part is that you’ll get better results when you give people the opportunity to stretch.

 

For more leadership advice, check out the Advice For Employers tag.