How to Recognise Potential Leaders in Your Team

One of our best resources for finding potential leaders is within our own organisations. After all, much of the vetting process has already been done. Let’s explain.

“When you stop growing you start dying.”

Famed author William S. Burroughs is credited with those words. It’s a quote that’s applicable to many facets of life, but is especially prescient when it comes to the business world. One of the ways we avoid growing stagnant is by finding potential leaders from within our own organisation.

Fresh blood and new perspectives provide immense opportunity for change and growth. And if Burroughs’ quote is to be given any amount of shrift, it’s also a way to stave off death.

We all have experience with this: a potentially successful company suffers setback after setback thanks to a lack of fresh ideas that should be provided by its leaders. This creates a vacuum that makes it difficult to achieve growth targets and other goals.

Leaders function as agents for change within an organisation. They take on a transformational role in company’s as it works to overcome the challenges set forth by the marketplace.

79 percent of organisations are focusing their efforts on building and promoting their own talent from within, according to Sourcematch.

Most of those organisations cite the time and money saved in the recruitment process, but it also presents an opportunity for the organisation to grow organically.

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Not to mention, these potential leaders are already familiar with your processes, systems, organisation structure, and work culture.

They’re also well-versed in the company’s strengths, as well as its weaknesses, which gives them the opportunity to make well-informed decisions with an eye towards growing the company.

So how do you go about identifying the right personalities from within your own organisation?

Look for a high-level of engagement

Do you know of a team member who tends to ask insightful questions or make thoughtful suggestions? They may be showing leadership potential.

People who show an interest in the entire company and in how their job roles affect the organisation are natural leaders. They can look to the bigger picture and see where they fit into it.

They are keen and observant. Not only do they do their work with interest but closely evaluate business strategies and actions. Be it finding ways to improve services, cutting down needless product costs or enhancing customer experience, they like to stay involved.

They’re also invested in the company’s goals and will form their own goals in tandem with the organisations.

If your employee is proactively making suggestions to help improve the day-to-day operations or showing interest beyond their position, you have likely identified an employee with leadership potential.

Focus on potential and not performance

It is also important to look beyond overall job performance for the potential within. Employees with high potential are 91 percent more valuable to a company than those who lack potential, according to one study.

Performance is an excellent indicator of ability and experience and an important parameter in its own right, but you also need to keep an eye on aptitude, desire for growth, and overall potential.

Many people may not make good leaders despite their high performance. They simply don’t have the capacity and work best in support roles.

That’s why we put a higher priority on capacity than performance when looking for potential leaders.

Find a predictive assessment method

We can’t always trust ourselves to be the best judge of character. If we evaluated everyone by what made us successful, we would end up picking leaders who look just like us.

They may make the same decisions as us, but they would also make the same mistakes, meaning there’s no checks and balances against managerial decision making. Indeed, many organisations are terrible at assessing potential talent.

Methods and tools that help us in our search eliminate these problems. These tools are useful at identifying high-potential leaders, especially when they’re process is different than our own.

They’re also effective at weeding out poor candidates for the top positions.

Managers need to decide what success looks like within each leadership role and assign success factors to the position.

The skills and disciplines you’re looking for should be future-focused in order to ensure your potential leaders know how to execute a strategy.

Paul Glatzhofer is a Director of Talent Solutions in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. As he points out in his blog, there are a few core characteristics for measuring performance in a job analysis:

  • Leadership potential (tactical and inspirational leadership)
  • Execution and delivery (driving results)
  • Emotional intelligence and collaboration
  • Learning ability and strategic thinking
  • Adaptability and leading change

He adds that a well-defined assessment process can pay dividends. It allows you to hire higher performing leaders, create lower overall turnover, and build a positive corporate culture, all while boosting your bottom line.

Is the potential leader comfortable with failure?

As Thomas Edison was fond of saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

A good work ethic isn’t found in the person who succeeds at everything they try, it’s found in the people who fail and try again anyway.

They modify their approach and eventually, through a lot of determination, they find a way to succeed.

Edison also once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Measuring resilience can be difficult, but try to look for a mindset that will continue to explore and diagnose why different issues keep cropping up.

potential leaders

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They hold themselves accountable

As we’ve established, everyone will fail. It’s inevitable. But what sets a good leader apart from others is that they hold themselves accountable.

If someone shies away from taking responsibility for their actions, it should reflect poorly upon them. They likely won’t make a good leader.

After all, leaders aren’t afraid to admit their mistakes, adjust, and move on.

They demonstrate emotional intelligence

For some people, it can be difficult to manage their thoughts and feelings in stressful times.

Those who can effectively handle how they react to high-stress situations show an aptitude for leadership.

Additionally, they don’t internalise their difficult emotions. Rather, they approach them in a proactive and objective way. This has been referred to as emotional agility by experts.

These individuals show the capacity to name their thoughts and emotions, and then put space between them in order to let go of the feelings that aren’t serving them in the moment.

They aren’t dominated by negative emotions like fear or victimisation and don’t find things like power, wealth, or status to be motivating factors in how they conduct themselves.

The best leaders will also have a strong sense of empathy. They will support others in times of need and take pride in the success of others.

Potential leaders don’t show off, they build trust

Let’s face it, we all hate show-offs. The best leaders already know they’re talented and don’t need to prove themselves to anyone else.

People who are good at their job will inspire the team around them to grow and achieve more.

Anyone who needs to have their successes validated will simply rob people the wrong way and put their colleagues off. Not to mention, these types of insecurities are antithetical to what makes a decent leader.

Look for informal leaders within pre-existing team settings. These are the folks who help build a culture of trust that can transform an organisation.

Some signs to look for:

  • They’re competent at their work
  • They have trusting relationships with their bosses
  • They build trust with those at their peers and anyone below them
  • They keep their word and respect confidentiality
  • They avoid gossip

These types of people tend to engage in strong eye contact and will actively engage in conversations. And as mentioned, trustworthy people can admit to their own mistakes. They will also share credit for positive outcomes.

In Summary

Identifying potential leaders within your organisation is no easy task.

It is, however, important to try. When top performers aren’t engaged, they will leave creating a talent and leadership vacuum within your company.

In their Harvard Business Review article, “How to Keep Your Top Talent,” Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt point out:

“It may seem obvious, but the solution is for senior management to double (or even triple) its efforts to keep young stars engaged.

That means recognising them early and often, explicitly linking their individual goals to corporate ones, and letting them help solve the company’s biggest problems.”

To avoid losing top talent, you should be fostering a company culture that rewards high performance, identifies high potential, and promotes those people to leadership positions.


About the Author

Roberto Garvin is the co-founder of Mofluid/Snewscms. It is absolutely amazing to see how technology continues to evolve, from email to browsers, search engines, mobile, AI and now blockchain. I am fortunate to witness it all. Really excited to see what’s next.

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