6 Traits of Potential Leaders

Develop young leaders.

Develop your leadership pipeline.

Invest in the next generation of leaders.

Wind up the whippersnappers.

OK. So I made that last one up, but the first three are phrases you’ve undoubtedly heard before. I don’t disagree with any of them; the more difficult task is making those things happen.

If you’re a leader with a little (or a lot of) experience, how do you even spot them? You can’t very well help them out if you don’t know who they are. It’s probably more difficult to mentor if that’s the case too.

On the other hand, if you think you are that young leader, or you want to be that young leader, the question that probably runs through your mind from time to time is “What the heck do I have to do for someone to see that I have an ounce of potential and give me a chance?”

Here are some characteristics you might want to keep an eye out for if you’re a manager or organization looking for that next generation of leaders.

Young professionals hoping to get into management or higher into management, I wouldn’t really think of this as a checklist, per se; but perhaps as a pool of suggestions. They’re things I know I keep an eye out for, and I know other leaders do as well.

It’s neither an exhaustive nor an exclusive list, so please don’t misunderstand my intent. The below list isn’t meant to imply that all future leaders must and will have every one of these and unless that’s the case, people can’t be great leaders; and please don’t infer that I think that anyone who possesses most or all of these automatically is or will be an exceptional leader, or even an average one.

(Geez. Talk about a disclaimer. I imagine the previous paragraph being said by one of those hopped-up-on-helium-and-caffeine guys who rattles off the disclosure at the end of commercials for lawyers and depression medications.)

1. Traits of Potential Leaders: Their work is more than a checklist.

One way to spot leaders is that their work is more than phrases on a job description. They readily acknowledge and embrace the fact that there’s so much more to work than what appears on that job description or task checklist.

Because of that mindset, they adapt well when organizational priorities and environments change without warning. They’re on the lookout for opportunities to lead and make things happen. They don’t wait for someone to hold their hand or tell them step-by-step exactly what to do.

2. Traits of Potential Leaders: They may be a little…odd.  

Sometimes leaders will be a little different, right? They might be quirky. They may have some odd idiosyncrasies. A lot of times, they’ll be fascinated by the unusual, the out-of-the-ordinary. They’re unusual, but in a good way.

3. Traits of Potential Leaders: While they may be unique, they’ve figured out how to make it so that their uniqueness isn’t a turnoff to too many. They don’t compromise who they are, but they do adapt as necessary. 

They’re not chameleons, but they are adept at maintaining their individuality while at the same time not ticking most people off with it.

4. Traits of Potential Leaders: They crave and find ways to attract the spotlight. But not for themselves — for others.

They’re quick to recognize others for what they do, and derive genuine happiness from pointing out the great work of others.

5. Traits of Potential Leaders: They possess workplace savvy.

They know there are extremely complex interpersonal and political dynamics at play every day within their organization. They work hard to understand and work well within them.

6. Traits of Potential Leaders: They’ll tell the emperor he/she’s naked.

A teammate who is willing to risk the temporary interpersonal discomfort associated with telling the emperor he’s actually naked is the sort of teammate to watch. Why? Because that teammate cares more about protecting and helping their teammate (the emperor) than they do about their own comfort. They care more about the organization being successful than they do about always feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Organizations need more people willing to look out for each other in that way. At the same time, the folks who get this employ the savvy mentioned above and understand that there’s a time and place to reveal to the emperor (see what I did there?) that he is, in fact, not wearing what he thinks he’s wearing. They’re not going to call him out for the whole world to hear. They’re going to wait for the room to clear after a meeting before having the conversation.

Like I said, this isn’t an exhaustive list. In fact, we’ll talk about some more tomorrow here at the site. But hopefully it’s enough to get organizations, present managers/leaders, and future managers/leaders thinking a little bit more about leadership within the organizational context.



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