If only spotting potential leaders was as simple as spotting the North Star each evening!
Luckily, the C-Suite is spoilt for choice with methodologies that claim to be the latest – backed by ‘cutting edge research’ – to spot future leaders. And because the future resonates so loudly in everyone’s mind, these programs – usually driven by HR – get implemented. Many are elaborate and usually bespoke to specific organizational needs. Some even include a fast-track roadmap that runs parallel to everyday corporate life, but with a few ‘extras’ for the chosen few. All good stuff, given their success in the market, and there’s more to come, for sure!
However, there are some traits that cannot be fully determined by either algorithms or science and yet are so obvious! Fundamental, in-built traits, whose roots lie in personal values and upbringing. They may not feature in any management book or psychometric test. But when determining what the next generation of leaders is going to look like, these are five must-haves:
A genuine smile that includes the eyes: This is arguably the first indication that the person has things under control. Smiles are infectious and light up the workplace. Think back about leaders we have encountered – or worked with – who rarely smiled. Sure, we all know some – what drags they were! Worse, remember those leaders – the snakes – with the fake slimy smile that ended just below their cheeks? People who smile often and easily generate a charisma that make others automatically follow them – they’re natural leaders!
Yes-we-can attitude: Mr. Obama didn’t make this his campaign slogan for nothing. More than motivating the American people, it reflected his own attitude. Leaders of tomorrow make things happen – today and on their own. They don’t wait for orders, or for things to reach the brink. They are already reaching out for new challenges, going that extra mile. Because they believe they can, they just go ahead and do it – and almost always take the team with them.
A teaching – learning atmosphere: Potential leaders truly believe that the best way to learn is to…teach! They constantly update their own knowledge through education, research, networking…then freely go ahead and teach others. They have no fear of someone doing better than themselves (a huge reason why some leaders duck succession programs). Instead, they enjoy writing blogs, soliciting debate and sharing their experiences. They encourage others to do the same, creating an environment where knowledge is indeed free.
Demonstrating the Human side: Potential leaders have no qualms about their human side and demonstrate it freely. They are confident that no one will mistake being human with being weak and take undue advantage. Sensitive, personal situations often spill over into the workplace. The easy way is to say a few words of sympathy – oh sorry, empathy is the more fashionable word these days. Actually, the appropriate word is compassion. Potential leaders show compassion unabashedly, in true demonstration of their human side.
Personal integrity: We’re living in an illusionary bubble if we stubbornly believe that when selecting a leader, integrity is paramount. It’s high, no doubt, but sometimes a dodgy nelson’s eye lets a few ‘minor’ things slip through the cracks. Why else would corporate scams show up with such regularity! No amount of regulation, communication or punishment can replace the fundamental integrity of an individual. While it may be possible that a few skeletons lie around in many cupboards, verification processes should be effective enough to uncover them. Disqualification on grounds of integrity – no matter how minor the incident or its impact – at the earliest stage of the identification process will certainly help make the upper deck squeaky clean. More relevant is the strong message it will send to all aspirants.
Of course, there’s no denying that the fundamental element of any identification process must begin with solid, actual performance – objectively measured by the individual’s scorecard – that is not negotiable. Or else, favouritism will step in and ruin everything. It happens!
Beware! Most high potentials demonstrate a snide, sneaky trait called ‘positioning’ – the one that makes the idiomatic mountain out of a molehill. Accepting positioned results is easier than contradicting them. There’s just too much accompanying hype – and maybe the fear of demotivating the person into quitting. Then where would all that lovely revenue come from, huh? Yet, oversized egos must be deflated – else receiving unearned praise becomes a habit that stays on forever.
At the end of the day, ‘potential’ leaders are a punt. So with due respect to all the various identification methods available, it may help reduce the ‘risk’ to consider deep-rooted personal traits too.