Finding future leaders as early as possible gives you the opportunity to shape them into the professionals you need and want them to be.
Exceptional leaders are nearly always those who have had their natural talents honed throughout their career. While this often involves coaching from more experienced professionals, it's also about providing the right environment to allow their own creative spark to shine.
If you don't have a large HR department or budget, finding the right professionals to nurture can feel like an almost impossible task, and one where plenty is at risk. Selecting an unsuitable individual will lead to a massive investment in resources being wasted, either by the person turning out to be a poor leader or by them leaving the company altogether. This is a time and money sink, and not one that an organization of any size can afford to repeat.
So how do you find the right people to be future leaders?
1. Look for the employees lifting others up
There's a lot to be said for professionals that are the best of the best, standing out from the crowd based on their raw talent, but if they can't support a team they'll be an incompetent leader. So start your search by looking for the employees who are quick to lift up the achievements of those around them. This can be in a project or for company-wide recognition schemes. Most skills can be taught but the ability to celebrate the achievements of those around you is something that comes naturally to some, while others will never completely grasp it.
2. Use assessments to identify talent
Leaders often choose people that remind them of themselves. This unconscious bias can jeopardize the future of an organization. There are few things worse than a company that treads water or becomes stagnant, but choosing the same type of leaders again and again is likely to cause just that. Instead of letting current bosses pick the future talent, look into predictive talent tools that will highlight the people who have the characteristics, skills or traits you're looking for. This removes any calls of favoritism, while also ensuring testing the potential of each candidate fairly.
3. Who's focusing on the future?
Some employees come in, do their job, pick up their paycheck and that's that. These aren't the future leaders you're looking for. The individuals you want to identify are those who are focused on the bigger picture. Budding leaders should want to work for the organization and should look for ways to invest themselves in it. This can be through continued professional development (CPD), engagement in their goals, or social activities, but they need to do more than just the essentials of their job description.
4. Write a job description
There are number of advantages to nurturing talent internally rather than recruiting, but whichever approach you're taking you should write a job description. This should be a wish list of all the qualities, traits and experience you want in future leaders. Have it as something only used in HR and management as a tool to spot potential candidates you might want to headhunt or standout employees that you should have on your radar. You should also ensure you have the progression and development structures in place to facilitate growth in the areas outlined.
5. Prioritize employee catch-ups
Annual appraisals simply aren't fit for purpose if you want to identify the leaders of the future at a time when you can still guide the direction they go in. You need to spot the raw talent or traits that reveal great potential to be a boss and then offer support to hone them. This is why employee-manager catch-ups should be prioritized across the company. They're not a nicety that can be pushed back when the work piles on, they're a crucial part of protecting your business for the future, while making sure you're getting the most out of your workforce now.
6. Do they have emotional intelligence?
Some experts believe great leaders have strong emotional intelligence. But do you know what to look for? At its core, being a great boss is about the relationships you create with those around you. This is why emotional intelligence - focusing on communication, expression and honesty - is such an effective indicator of people who will make standout leaders. Work closely with managers to identify colleagues that show strong potential in this area or look at ways you can test it during interviews.
7. Look out for catalysts
People that actively work towards their goals instead of passively waiting around for things to happen are the professionals you need to watch out for. These employees are not only accountable, follow up on their promises, and are dedicated; they are also the catalyst for change. These professionals make things happen and that's exactly why you want them in your leadership team of the future.
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