The year was 1994: I had just graduated from college and began looking for my first “real” job. I was fortunate to have been introduced to an executive at a Los Angeles media company and he lined up an interview for me. I was eventually offered the position of sales assistant at a national firm that sold advertising to regional television stations in 35 markets nationwide, including Honolulu’s KHON.
I was excited and intimidated at the same time; I wanted to succeed, but, most of all, I didn’t want to let my bosses down. My direct supervisor was the office manager and I supported two account executives who also supervised my work. I was young, inexperienced, naive and impressionable. I assumed that anyone with rank or title was a leader. On top of that, my parents had always taught me to respect my elders and people of authority.
Some of my supervisors were great leaders, but others displayed no leadership whatsoever. Over the course of my career, I have come to realize that true leadership is much more than a title or rank.
Many organizations put the wrong people into leadership positions. These costly mistakes can be based on the prospect’s credentials, seniority or charisma, or companies may feel rushed to fill a position to keep the organization moving forward.
Avoid this mistake by identifying and cultivating potential leaders within your organization, so when a leadership position arises, there is a strong pool of candidates whose potential has already been vetted and they are ready to fill the gap. This month, I will focus on keys to identifying potential leaders within your organization and will discuss cultivating those young leaders in next month’s column.
When identifying potential leaders, I suggest you study their characters and actions instead of relying on titles or current roles.
Here are some characteristics to look for:
Trust: Are they earning the trust of their team and internal and external customers? Do they lead by example?
Accountability: Are they accountable for their responsibilities and accountable to their peers? Do they own the good and the bad?
Performance: Are they exceeding expectations or only meeting the standards?
Self-Awareness: Are they realistic about their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and their effect on others? Are they passionate about their jobs, the company’s mission and about leadership?
Change: Do they embrace change or do they avoid new ideas and risks?
Adversity: How do they respond in crisis situations? Do they retreat or tackle problems head on with resolve?
Listen and Learn: Do they think they know it all, or do they learn from others? Are they constantly seeking to improve themselves?
Empathy: Bestselling author D. Michael Lindsay says the best leaders have learned to “think institutionally, but act personally.” That’s a rare skill; do you see signs of it in any employees?
Sometimes leaders arise from the unlikeliest places. By observing the actions and characters of your employees, you can identify emerging leaders early and nurture their leadership potential. Check back next month as I share thoughts on how to cultivate that potential.