“Everyone should have a continuity plan” notes Kate Cooper, Senior Advisor in Leadership and Management Development at ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management). This sees continual promotion of employees to management positions over new hires. Apart from anything else, internal promotion costs much less than bringing in new personnel, “not only for recruitment but also for learning curve costs.” Identifying potential leaders can be a minefield, though.
For instance, it’s easy enough to spot a potential leader - who may not know that they could be a leader- if they have obvious qualities. Composure, emotional intelligence and short and long-term vision for themselves, their department and the company as a whole are some of these qualities. It can be more difficult to assess candidates who are actively pursuing leadership roles. They may attempt to disguise weaker or non-existent attributes to make them seem like an attractive choice over other candidates who may be more obviously qualified.
A potential leader may well possess attributes such as engagement, motivation, determination and so on, but these are not quantifiable skills. Anyone can display a high level of motivation (which is naturally important for anyone looking to become a leader) but the results they achieve and the way they go about their roles will be more of an indication as to how they will perform in a management role. These are things that cannot be disguised, and they should therefore be focussed on in any assessment of a candidate’s abilities.
High emotional intelligence
An aspiring leader’s ability to get the best out of their teams will depend hugely on their emotional intelligence. They need to understand what makes each member perform to their fullest potential and how to manage them so that they are always engaged in their work. They also need to know how to look at themselves with a critical, dispassionate eye to see where they can improve. This last point helps to avoid the onset of hubris, where “a leader will overestimate his own ability and alienate others.”
Look out for a team member who is able to let go of any mistakes they might make without dwelling and obsessing over them, who is naturally curious (without being nosy) about other people and who embraces change without complaining or worrying about it.
Ability to take the initiative
Leaders, as their name suggests, have to be the ones to take the first step, taking action and taking risks where necessary. They need to be proactive rather than reactive in terms of the way they work in order to help the company grow.
Aspiring leaders will make the effort to take on jobs and tasks first, to ask questions that no-one else wants to ask and to help colleagues who are having problems with their work. They ask to be assessed and suggest solutions to problems that you might not even be having yet.
The judgement of any leader will be important – they have to use it to make decisions that could significantly impact the business as a whole, let alone their team or department. They have to be able to look at situations with a critical eye and identify the most important issues to upon which to act.
With this in mind, the candidate should be assessed in terms of the questions they ask about certain situations – are they asking the right ones and zeroing in on the key aspects of the task? Are they looking at the big picture (i.e. the potential consequences of their decisions and actions on other parts of the business) in addition to the immediate task at hand? Everything should be aimed at achieving the company’s overall goals, so that’s where judgement skills should be utilised.
Undaunted performance under pressure
One of the most significant indicators of a leader with real potential is the way they perform under adverse conditions. If they can do this as part of a team, they will be able to lead their team when they’re under pressure and still produce results.
Look out for someone who can remain calm and focused on rectifying the problem when things go wrong and everyone around them is panicking. They should also be able to get all work done on time regardless of budgets and other external or internal factors, rather than relying on excuses to cover their own inadequacies.
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