The Art of Spotting a Leader

Probably every five seconds there’s a new article written on some aspect of leadership. Numerous experts discuss the various types of leaders, i.e. transformational, laissez-faire, autocratic, transactional, hands-on and situational. Yet there’s a proportionately smaller number of articles that focus on an incredibly important aspect of leadership…how to spot those talented and sometimes elusive future leaders within your company. What do you look for, what are the parameters and what sets them apart from everyone else?

Here are some clues into where you can spot your future leaders:

  • Look for aptitude. In other words, instead of immediately going to your highest performer or the person who gets the most accomplished, look to see who seems to have the greatest aptitude and potential for growth, and does this person have an interest in growing, moving up and taking on more responsibility?
  • Are they engaged? As an example, is this person proactive and does he/she make suggestions and show interest in other areas of the company or department separate from her own? According to Andrew Cravenho, CEO of CBAC Funding, an individual must feel invested in a company’s goals and should see his professional achievements through the prism of company growth.
  • Are they accountable? Do they make decisions when necessary, regardless of authority, and do they take responsibility when mistakes happen?
  • Do they have “people skills?” Translate that into looking at which people take time to build relationships with others, take their egos out of the mix and work effectively as a team player, help others when needed and really take time to interact with people? This skill is crucial for charismatic leadership. The potential leader will also let others shine instead of taking all the praise. As an example, there was a concert in Modena, Italy where Zucchero and Pavarotti were the stars. However after they performed suddenly they were in the background, replaced by a children’s choir. The focus was on the music, not the individuals. And in a company the focus should be on letting others take credit and glory while leaders stay quietly in the background.
  • Are they excellent communicators? This skill is crucial for good leaders. Can they communicate complicated information easily and listen to understand others’ view points? Do they generate enthusiasm, camaraderie and build morale when communicating? Do they have the ability to influence and inspire?

Additionally, watch for those who pay attention to things that can have an emotional impact on employees. As an example, one company continually promoted a core value that said “we care about you” to their employees. They validated their statement by asking a nutritionist to study the snacks in the company break room to ensure they were healthy and appealing to employees. We’ve often heard that it’s the little things that matter, and people pick up on this very quickly.

Finally examine the everyday personality of potential leaders, those subtle characteristics that spell success. Do they come to work happy regardless of circumstances? Do they handle failures well and get on with the business at hand? Do they bring an energy to the table that empowers others? Do they keep people safe in times of emotional stress? And do they continually find ways to thank and appreciate others?

By the way don’t forget to trust your instinct or gut feelings. Author Malcolm Gladwell reminded us of that in his book Blink, and it is never more important than when selecting future leaders. Think of it like this, if you’re in the middle of the ocean in a lifeboat and you can have one other person with you, who would it be? That might be the very best indicator of whom you really trust to help you survive and ultimately lead the company or department into the future!

By Jennifer Webb

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