The success of any organization is largely reliant on the strength of the leadership; conveying a vision, formulating strategy, and ultimately driving the direction of a company is no small task. Thus, having a sustained and committed leadership development program can be a key differentiator in the trajectory of a firm. Although bringing in talent from the outside has advantages including fresh ideas, competitive insights and diversification, there is nothing like a home-grown leader. Talent from inside the organization is well versed with the history, processes, systems, structure, and culture already in place. Home-grown talent is also aware of the organization’s strengths and perhaps even more importantly, weaknesses; this allows them to make better and more informed growth-oriented decisions.
How does one start to identify the next generation of leadership within the firm? Instead of relying solely on tenure, keep in mind that your future leaders of your company may be hiding in plain sight. How do you bring them out into the open?
Potential vs. Performance
Quite often, raises and promotions occur based on outstanding performance and the achievement of quotas or goals. Employee performance defines ability and expertise, which is important. However, place equal weight on an individual’s aptitude, desire to grow, and overall potential.
In other words, just because an athlete is one of the best football players of all time does not mean that individual can be an effective coach. Some individuals are not cut out to be leaders, although their performance is at the higher end of the scale. They don’t have the capacity to play leadership roles, they may lack the visionary ability required, or they enjoy the spotlight so much that they will rarely redirect it to others. This is why potential should outweigh performance as a factor when zeroing in on a possible future leader.
Rules of Engagement
Be on the lookout for those employees who have a natural ability to make things happen. They gravitate towards making decisions rather than waiting to see what the status quo will be. Specifically, look for individuals who take action and can speak to how they have tried as opposed to what they think someone else could, or should, do.
A future leader will have a tendency to make suggestions for overall process improvement, rather than asking questions to clarify what is expected of them. Future leaders will take the time to be overly prepared for meetings, projects, and responsibilities – take the time to identify individuals who take things seriously. They understand the importance of any task that has been entrusted to them, no matter how small, and seize it as an opportunity to perform.
Additionally, how does an employee act in a meeting; are they attentive and composed, or distracted and ready to “get back to work?” True leaders are too intensely focused to get restless, too engaged to be nervous, and too invested to be bored.
We tend to categorize multi-tasking as the ability to juggle several activities simultaneously. Think beyond multi-tasking with activities, and instead look for those who can multi-task with responsibilities. Leaders need to be agile as they can at times be relied upon to light a fire within one group while simultaneously putting out a fire with another. They must not be flustered by an abrupt change in direction or by seamlessly picking up balls that have been dropped – all while still delivering on the core functions of their role.
Put your prospective future leaders to the test and give them some extra responsibilities or perhaps an assignment with a quick turnaround time. Do not be afraid to throw them in at the deep end and keep tabs on how well they swim. Can they handle the extra tasks you have assigned, or are they finding it difficult to be nimble and adapt to the pressure? Do they have a “do whatever it takes” attitude and can stretch when pulled, perhaps even putting in extra hours or soliciting the help of others for direction and support?
Extroversion versus Emotional Intelligence
Particularly in a leadership capacity, one must have a genuine demeanor and a connection with those around them. Not all great leaders are extroverts, so do not make the mistake of gravitating to the loudest talker in the room. Instead, look for those who have a high degree of self-awareness and who take the time to interact with other employees outside of their immediate hierarchy. Future leaders will not be consumed by negative emotions such as fear or victimization, nor do they make excuses for subpar results by blaming a litany of extenuating factors that no normal human could possibly have overcome. When individuals with high emotional intelligence make a mistake and get criticized for it, it does not send them into an emotional tailspin; they view it simply as a fact to be noted, studied and corrected.
Seminary professor J. Carla Northcutt once stated, “The goal of many leaders is to get people to think more highly of the leader. The goal of a great leader is to help people to think more highly of themselves.”
A mark of a future leader is someone secure enough personally to help others advance in their careers. They are confident without being arrogant. They are humble but have a high sense of self-worth. They are comfortable in their own skin without being blasé. They are good listeners but do so with purpose and intention. They can deliver a tough message with a soft hand. They care not about wealth or fame, but about achievement and potential.