Identifying and Supporting Potential Leaders: What You Need to Know

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Unless you work completely alone, there will come a time when you as a founder or business leader need to give leadership responsibilities to other members of your team. This can happen for several reasons. Perhaps the company is growing, and you no longer have the bandwidth to manage a burgeoning team on your own. Maybe you’re planning on leaving the company in the future and wish to leave your team in good hands. Maybe a particular project falls so far outside your area of expertise that it would be better off in someone else’s hands.

Regardless of the reason, you’ll have to delegate at least some of your responsibilities at some point, so it’s important to begin identifying and cultivating the leaders among your employees. The following tips can help with this process. Keep them in mind to identify and support the leaders within your team.


Pay Attention to Engagement

In an ideal world, all of your employees would consistently demonstrate high levels of engagement every single day—but of course, that’s unrealistic. Some of your employees are going to be more engaged than others.

These are the types of people who are likely to thrive as leaders. After all, a leader needs to remain passionate about their work. They need to inspire others and motivate them, especially during challenging times, and they can’t do so if they’re aren’t motivated and engaged themselves.

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This highlights an important point: performance is not the only factor worth considering when deciding which of your employees are capable of leading other team members in the future. Although it’s necessary for a leader to be a strong performer, even someone who performs well on the job may not make a strong leader if they aren’t engaged. Some people are talented and hard-working, and therefore perform well, but this isn’t the same as being truly engaged.

So, what are the signs of an engaged employee? For one, they tend to be excellent communicators, and they’re not shy about sharing their opinions about their work, their team’s processes or procedures, and even the company as a whole. They may have points of criticism, but they’re not complainers or whiners, and their critiques aren’t personal or unkind. Similarly, engaged employees often ask questions about why a particular strategy or procedure was adopted—because they actually care and want the best for the company. Finally, they willingly collaborate with co-workers rather than shun team participation. Their co-workers see them as a positive presence.


Pay Attention to Behavior During Meetings

Though it seems that everyone “hates” meetings these days, it’s still important to bring people together. When you meet with your team members on a regular basis, you give them opportunities to provide feedback, and you demonstrate that you value them enough to include them in decisions. This has been shown to boost engagement, particularly among valuable A-players who want their voices to be heard.

Holding regular meetings also gives you the opportunity to identify leaders among your employees. Again, although some team members may perform well, that doesn’t mean they’d make good leaders. Some high-performing employee may be passive during meetings, rarely offering any ideas to help the team achieve its goals. They’d rather be followers. This doesn’t always mean they’re disengaged or miserable, but it probably does indicate that they don’t want to take on additional responsibilities.

Other employees, however, will actively strive to participate in meetings. They’ll offer their ideas, suggest strategies, and volunteer to take on responsibilities. These are typically the employees who have leadership aspirations. Keep your eye on them.


Give Them Opportunities to Lead


Your goal isn’t merely to identify team members who have the potential to become strong team leaders. You also need to cultivate their skills. The more you help them develop their leadership abilities, the better-equipped they will be to thrive when the time comes for them to manage a team.

That’s why it can be helpful to assign your promising employees significant projects that give them the opportunity to test their leadership abilities. It’s up to you how much responsibility you feel is safe to give them, of course, but consider offering something at least somewhat challenging. For instance, when you hire new employees, you might assign team members who you believe have leadership potential the task of leading training and onboarding. They can also monitor and manage the performance of new hires during the first weeks of their employment. This serves two purposes. One, it obviously gives them the chance to exercise their leadership skills. Two, it gives you the freedom to focus on more important tasks, instead of constantly spending your time managing new hires.

Remember, even if your team is small, and you’re the only one involved in leading your employees at this point, that will change in the future when your company grows. If you take the time to identify potential leaders right now, you won’t have to scramble to find them when you need them.