The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is easy to look good and behave well when everything around you is going well. If you want to see what a person is truly made of, put the pressure of a crisis on them.

When a routine is thrown into the air, when people are stressed out, when employees are under unimaginable pressures, it is precisely the time when you want to test people for leadership potential.

Dozens of times in my life I have seen the sharpest, best & fittest soldier in the barracks or on the parade square fall to pieces under the leadership pressures, of lack of sleep, bad weather and the intensity of combat.

But the quiet person, the calm and steady one, the least suspecting man or woman rise to the moment and steps up into leadership like a well-fitted suit when given the opportunity.

In a recent post, I explored the difference between those high-performance employees and those who have high potential.

Read that post here

When looking for your next generation of leaders, it makes sense to cultivate the most extensive pool you can manage and explore who is stepping up during the current pandemic.

Start asking yourself:

Who is quietly leading their teams and their coworkers?

Who is the person other employees look to for help and guidance instead of existing managers?

Who is bringing the ideas forward?

When thinking about the future executives should stop old-school thinking by stopping these common errors:

  1. Overvaluing job performance and undervalue character traits.
  2. Promoting people who look, talk, act, and manage as they do.
  3. Undervaluing opinions of your employees.

Performance Matters. But Potential Matters More.

Then, when looking for leaders, you can focus less on performance and more on actual leadership skills, like

  • Curiosity;
  • Emotional intelligence; or the
  • Ability to communicate.

Read more about Emotional Intelligence.

When trying to identify future leaders, merely skimming from the top layer of job performers is seldom the best strategy.

Look for People Willing to Try Different Solutions — and Accept the Consequences

Pointing out problems is easy.

What is harder is to come up with solutions.

Even harder? Have the wisdom to change things when the first solution doesn’t work.

Great leaders aren’t only those with the best ideas. They’re also willing to accept responsibility for the decisions they’ve made: especially their failures. That’s what inspires other people.

So when looking for leaders, it’s not only essential to search for creative thinkers. You also want to find people with the courage to fail, publicly, and to re-evaluate their strategies accordingly.

The Best Leaders Are Not Always Those Who Talk the Most

Studies show that people who talk the most in meetings tend to get their performance rated as more intelligent, and they overwhelmingly tend to be male.

Put differently, those people who seem to be leading in group settings may, in fact, not be leading at all – they’re just talking a lot. 

Consider that maybe the best leader is the person best able to build consensus or is the quiet person who waits to speak but always comes up with the most forward-thinking solution.

Some leaders may be quite successful with personal projects.

Point being, many successful people keep their wins to their selves.

Read about boastful leadership

Trust Your Employees’ Opinions

Too many executives tend to imagine that they can easily pick out leadership potential, but relying only on your own opinions can limit the range of people you notice.

Here’s a different idea: ask your employees what they think.

Every once in a while, ask all employees who, other than themselves, they think possesses the most leadership potential.

Whom would they follow into uncharted territory?

To whom would they most trust their jobs or the future of the company?

This bottom-up approach to identifying leaders can pay huge dividends: you’re not only telling your employees that you value their opinions but also locating people whom employees already look for guidance.

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