Identifying and assessing potential leaders in your firm is one of the best things you can do to ensure the future success of your company. It’s been proven that leadership is a key component in driving the success of a company. A Global Leadership Forecast report stated that “organizations with the highest quality leaders were 13 times more likely to outperform their competition in key bottom-line metrics such as financial performance, quality of products and services, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction.”

Additionally, the research showed that when the leadership of a company was described as poor, only 6% of the organizations managed to outperform their competitors. That means that 78 percent of firms with excellent leadership were at the top of the game in their industries!

Gauging the leadership potential of your current employees is no easy task. To train future leaders and judge the talents of employees, organizations often turn to checklists and standardized tools to help them pick the best of the bunch.

In reality, scorecards and checklists are not the solution for identifying leaders, but rather evaluating individuals one by one. There are a few strategies any organization can apply to help identify and develop better leaders.

List Traits For Identifying and Assessing Potential Leaders

With a single Google search, you can find dozens of lists of traits that a so-called leader should possess. You’ll see similarities on each list along with clear differences. Why can’t everyone agree?

The problem is that organizations value different things. Your mission statement, objectives, employee culture, and past leaders will help inform the way you perceive leadership. Therefore, blanket statements about the traits of a leader won’t work nearly as well as creating a list of traits that your firm will see as a good leader.

You might consider character, dedication, values, treatment of others, integrity, courage, out-of-the-box thinking, and other traits that will develop a strong leader within your firm.

To give you an idea of the kinds of traits you should be looking for in your customized assessment, Ryan Ross, a managing partner for Hogan Assessments, says that the traits you should look for are “objectively measured, enduring, stable characteristics that aren’t impacted by politics, relationships, or context.”

It might surprise you what you value most in your firm. For example, you might find that a good leader in your firm isn’t afraid to look for solutions outside of the firm to have essential services performed, such as tax preparation. Or they might be willing to work with a competitor to get the best result.

As you cultivate a list of leadership traits that make sense to you, individuals will naturally stand out to you.

Potential Trumps Performance in Your Firm

Performance is important. It’s difficult to imagine a leader that struggles to keep up with the demand of everyday responsibilities. However, this should not be your only way to measure leadership skills.

Don’t forget that many of Albert Einstein’s under-graduate professors were less than impressed by his lazy scholarly performance in school, but they were astounded by his mathematical talents and out-of-the-box thinking.

Your search for leadership should take this anomaly into account. According to Andrew Cavenho of FastCompany, firms should look for “employee’s aptitude, desire to grow, and overall potential.”

He goes on to explain that performance can be misleading because hard workers are often better at putting their nose to the grindstone and following orders than they are at inspiring and leading teams.

“This is why potential should outweigh performance as a parameter when zeroing in on a possible future leader,” he finishes.

Put Potentials in Your Firm to the Test

Once you’ve spotted a potential leader, it’s probably wise not to throw them into the lion’s den without a vetting process. Some employees may seem like the perfect fit for a leadership position, but when put to the test, they crack under pressure.

First, let them interact with current leaders, teaching them to network, work with people, and learn by example. Then, give them the responsibility of managing people, even if it’s just a small task.

In a discussion on developing leaders, the Wall Street Journal points out the value of using “stretch assignments,” which are training exercises with obvious risk involved. “They’re designed to push participants past their skill level,” the article says.

And it’s okay if the individual is not successful right away. “Failure offers valuable lessons that can add new skills, improve confidence and solidify employee commitment.” Just make sure that the individual you’re testing learns from their mistakes and improves rather than repeating mistakes or wallowing in their failure.

Talk Your Firm’s Employees

As much as you’d like to think that there’s no separation of classes in the workforce, it’s simply not true. When you, as a business leader, enter a room full of employees on a break, all chatter may cease. Therefore, it can be difficult to ascertain each employee’s true character without a little digging.

Demonstrate the strength of a leader by listening to your employees. Start asking around, seeing who your employees think might possess leadership skills, other than themselves. Ask who they respect, who has integrity, who is committed to work, and who they would trust to get them out of a tight spot.

It’s all part of a bottom-up leadership strategy that typically leads to huge rewards. It helps you develop as a leader because you’re showing that you value your employees’ opinions. At the same time, it gets you accurate answers to your questions.

Choose Someone People Like Being Around

This may seem like somewhat of an unorthodox method for choosing leaders in your company. It shouldn’t be personal, but if you choose someone that you like and identify with, you’re more likely to find someone who will fit in with the aesthetic of your executive branch. This person doesn’t have to agree with everything you say, and should present new ideas, but that doesn’t mean they have to be gruff and distant.

This goes back to a study that the Alternative Board conducted to determine the most important leadership traits. As reported by Inc.com, the largest response (nearly half the participants) stated that positivity was the number one quality of a good leader, beating out passion and decisiveness.

If leaders are constantly spreading good vibes in the office, boosting morale, and maintaining a can-do attitude, they won’t place limits on what your company can achieve. They’ll present solutions, not problems.

The leader that “continually pokes holes in things without any resolution, is bound to make your entire team a little frustrated and disheartened,” says Kat Boogaard, who reported on the study by Inc.com. On the other hand, the forward-thinking leader will impassion and motivate your team on the road to success.

Find Those Who Believe in Your Firm

These tips and tools to help you find a good leader won’t help your firm if the individuals don’t plan on sticking around. Many hold all the necessary traits of a fantastic executive, but a year into the job, they jump ship and head to the next best thing.

Look for those who are in it for the long haul. They should love what they do and believe in your firm. Their enthusiasm for your business will not only increase the likelihood that they’ll stick around, but it should also reduce turnover in your employees. Employees like working in an environment of strong positivity and conviction, so choosing a leader with a strong belief system in what you do can make all the difference.

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