By Paul Clark, Senior Consultant
As senior executives look for the next generation of leaders within their firms, they want to know who has the raw material to become an inspiring, effective influence on their teams; who, if nurtured, could truly make an impact on the culture and the output of a team and the company as a whole.
While these are considerations, there are a hundred questions behind each one of these. How can one know? Are the determining factors entirely subjective? Is anything about people development predictable? What can be introduced into the equation to minimize risk and maximize potential? What role does the possible key leader play in their own development?
While there are no guarantees, there are five key signals that point to leadership potential.
Is the potential leader ahead of the curve when it comes to stepping into an activity, role, responsibility or task? Are they proactive or reactive? Traits often displayed are initiative, spotting opportunities and identifying problems early on. But a real leader also finds simple ways to solve those problems and comes to the table with problem-solving ideas. Contribution is key.
Vacuum Above the Head.
Six colleagues are sitting around the table. As the potential leader steps out to head back to her desk, someone comments that she is constantly performing above their expectations. Just like nature hates a vacuum, this person is literally creating a vacuum above their head by delivering more value to the organization than their role normally demands. Someone else comments, “She’s been in this position for how long? We have a larger role, and we’ve been talking about who can fill that position. We’re hearing great things about her, and we should look at moving her into that role. There’s so much more she could be doing.”
That’s what we mean by “vacuum above the head.” Who has one at your organization?
Learning Through Osmosis.
Learning agility is the ability to learn various skills and processes combined with a curiosity and drive to learn as much as possible. In essence, this person can’t learn enough. They are a sponge. Often, they quickly learn the basics of the role, and then begin to harvest information and knowledge outside of their specific area in order to bring knowledge back to the team.
Influence Runs Deep.
At its very core, leadership is influence. When a leader has an opinion, a view, a direction or a question, it should make a difference to others in the room. For example, when this person speaks, people lean forward and listen, they take notes, they value what they have to say. Contrast this attribute with those who dominate conversations during meetings but do not add value. It’s not hard to observe how coworkers react and quickly see whether a person is an influencer or not.
Collaboration is key.
Collaboration is the natural overflow of influence. A true leader empowers others to become leaders as well. It’s great to see leaders who, before they’ve even taken on a new role, are already bringing the next line of leaders along. They’ve been collaborating; they’re not seeking the limelight. They are constantly thinking “Who can I bring along with me? and how can I build a team?” And they reach across the organization to find others who think differently to learn from them.
These five attributes work in concert. The leader who is ready for the next step shows initiative to overdeliver, has a hunger to learn, possesses a desire to share knowledge with others, and displays a potential for growth. This leader is having a positive influence on colleagues and is developing a reputation as a collaborator.