Spotting the “Right” Leaders in Your Organization


How do you spot potential leaders in your organization? Is it the person that keeps asking for the promotion, for more responsibility, and has the drive to push their way into a leadership position? Probably not. To paraphrase Oswald Sanders, “The office should seek the leader more than the leader seeks the office.” This is not to say that ambition to grow and to want promotions is undesirable. It is, in fact, desirable as long as the person clamoring for more power is not in a state where his ambition exceeds his competence or character.

While there is not a fail-safe criteria for selecting potential leaders, the following seven guidelines should be a helpful checklist as you select the next leader for your organization.

1. What has the person done with their life?
Past accomplishments are a solid indicator of future performance. What is the most significant impact the candidate has had in a current role, or in past roles? What has he or she overcome, stuck with, fought through and gotten done? Past experience doesn’t equal past accomplishments. In fact, ample experience accompanied by minimal accomplishments, strongly indicates the person shouldn’t be placed in an even higher position to accomplish little in.

2. Does the person demonstrate leadership in their current position?
Regardless of title, true leaders begin acting like leaders before they’re in leadership positions. They put in extra work, solve problems, bring you ideas, demonstrate integrity, take responsibility, are coachable, are eager to help others and put the team first, and the like.

3. Is anyone currently following the person?
In other words, does the person have influence in their current position? Since a key aspect of leadership is influence, whether they have influence now is a strong indicator of leadership. Do people listen to the person, trust the person, and aspire to be like the person? And is the influence they have gained used for the good of the team or just for his or her selfish agenda and benefit

4. Is the person faithful in their current duties?
If not, they’ll only further abuse resources, people and opportunities they have once they’re at a higher level. Incidentally, failure to keep commitments—even “little things” like being to work on time — is a red flag that should disqualify them from a larger platform to demonstrate similar disrespect for others, until they clean up their behaviors in the position they’re currently in.

5. Does the person have a thirst for growth?
How do they respond to feedback you give them in their current position? Do they enjoy training or look at it as an interruption? Are they working on, and investing in their own growth? Frankly, as pertains to getting better on the job, you don’t have the time or energy to smack someone in the head with a bat and drag them around the bases. Nor should you have to beg or bribe someone to work on themselves. A “been there, done that,” know-it-all mindset is dangerous in any position, but it’s particularly devastating if the know-it-all is in leadership.

6. Do they possess the traits you cannot effectively teach them or change about them?
Since among other traits, you cannot teach character, drive, motivation, talent, attitude or a higher energy level, it is important that the candidate bring these traits to the table. Believing someone who is negative, low-energy, untalented, corrupt or undriven is going to magically change just because their title, office, or responsibilities change is nonsense. People like that don’t need a change of scene, or position; they need a change of self.
While you can teach skills and knowledge, the adage is true: you can’t put into someone what was left out. You can only draw out what was left in. If someone lacks these traits in their current position, don’t believe for a second that they will all of a sudden develop them if you promote them, or change in the moving van from one business entity to the other.

7. Does the person accept responsibility for their results?
While this is certainly an aspect of character, it’s an important enough trait to warrant its own category in this article. Frankly, if someone plays the blame game as a follower, they will certainly do it as a leader, and until someone develops the integrity to accept that it’s their personal decisions more than outside conditions that determine their success they are unfit for leadership.

There are additional factors you could add, but these areas can help you get through the emotional sway of promoting someone because you really “like” him or her — or because they’ve tenured and you feel you owe them a shot — and look more objectively instead at whether they are actually fit for the job and have the makeup to do the job with the excellence you expect and deserve.

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