Leadership: The next generation – talent-spotting the future

‘To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.’

–Bruce Lee

Inspirational stuff and few would argue with the be-the-best-you-can-be aspiration. But what about other people’s potential? How do you spot the leaders of the future?

There’s much talk of leadership traits and qualities, such as resilience, emotional intelligence, influence… but let’s be honest, it’s usually in reference to someone already in a leadership role. Their job title tells us they’re a leader (in name, at least) and we compare them to these accepted leadership criteria to see if they’re a good one or not.

It’s requires a different perspective to start with the criteria and look at non-leaders to see how they might potentially measure up. Nevertheless, it’s essential to do so. After all (and just to get faux-profound for a moment) if you don’t shape the future, the future will shape you.

What does a potential leader look like?

First you need to know what a leader looks like, and a detailed answer to this question would be different for every organisation. The best advice is to be clear on what constitutes great leadership for you – what do you value, what has been proven to work for your business, and what do you need looking ahead.

That said, here are a few key elements of leadership that you may see in your potential future leaders:

  • Takes responsibility seriously. In fact, they seek it out. They’re ready to take on more.
  • Seeks advice when needed. They know there are things they don’t know, or experiences they lack, and comfortable as they are stepping out of their comfort zone, they also know that is exactly when advice or guidance can be helpful – in other words, they don’t let pride stop them using the resources available.
  • Contributes ideas. Not all the ideas are necessarily workable but offering suggestions to improve the workplace, enhance customer service, or grow the business shows a degree of commitment and engagement with the company and its goals.
  • Inspiring. It’s unlikely to manifest in a formal way, but are those around them inspired to follow? Do their teammates and colleagues ‘take a lead’ from this person?
  • Inspired. Are they generally enthused, committed, and engaged? An engaged employee sees their job as rewarding and the workplace as a positive place. A future leader goes beyond this, actively bringing their ‘best self’ to work and contributing to an environment of high performance.
  • Resilient. Not simply stoic when faced with difficulty but optimistic, adaptable, flexible, durable, open to opportunity and keen to learn from every situation.

What you’re NOT looking for

A future leader may well lack all the theoretical knowledge that often comes with leadership development and coaching (the difference between management and leadership, the nuances distinguishing strategic and tactical leadership, different leadership models, etc.). All this ‘frameworking’ of good leadership can be acquired later. As can specific skills – if your identified potential leader isn’t so great at giving feedback, no problem. They can learn. What’s more important is they appreciate the value of feedback as a mechanism of improvement.

Also, high performance in their current role is not necessarily a requirement. Remember, you’re looking for potential. Yes, excellent performance may attract your attention but on the other hand, for example, the world’s best administrator may be the world’s worst leader.

How to seek out future leadership potential

A few thoughts:

  • Discuss with other leaders and managers – It can be easy for managers to focus too closely on their own teams. A regular benchmarking meeting at which existing managers and leaders discuss and compare their candidates with potential gives a more organisation-wide picture.
  • Rotate duties and roles – Swapping people around can be a good idea in general, creating a more flexible workforce and better-performing teams. But it’s also a chance to spot leadership potential, depending on how individuals rise to the challenge of the change.
  • Ask your people about their personal goals and aspirations – Whether in the dreaded annual review or more often, learn about your people. Not everyone who wants to be a leader would make one, but the desire to progress indicates a basic enthusiasm and commitment.

If you’re a business that depends on good leadership (and which business doesn’t?) then however rosy the present and however good your current leaders, you’ll have one eye on the future, focused on the question of who will lead tomorrow…

If you’d like to explore the issue of spotting and developing leadership potential further, check out our Inspiring Leader Programme or give us a call on 01582 463460.

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