One way to spot leadership potential is identifying people who assume unofficial authority within the framework of their jobs. Informal leaders possess certain traits that distinguish them from others on the team and build their credibility:
Subject Matter Expertise
If the person is skilled at web design or fluent in a foreign language and uses it to strengthen relationships with customers, this is a sign of someone who’s a role model for others. If you notice that a person has a thorough knowledge of the product and people look to her for guidance, there’s a good chance she would be coachable for a leadership role. The longer someone has been in a job, the more authority she has. Look for those who have more experience as well as those who show humility. A potential leader is someone who gives constructive, clear, actionable feedback and does it in a respectful way, usually in private. He avoids confrontation for its own sake and uses discretion so when he offers his opinion, people listen and heed his advice.
Informal leaders are often the ones who help build a culture of trust that transforms an organization. First and foremost, they’re competent and good at their job. They have trusting relationships with people above them (their bosses) and with those in line with or beneath them (their peers or direct reports). They keep their word, respect rules of confidentiality and avoid gossip. When in conversation, trusted informal leaders make good eye contact and often lean into the conversation to signal that they’re sincerely listening and interested. Trustworthy people are able to admit their mistakes and are known to share credit for outcomes.
People who can manage their thoughts and feelings during stressful times are often considered potential leaders. They don’t internalize or try to sublimate their uncomfortable emotions. Instead, they approach them in an objective, value-driven, proactive way, developing what is frequently called emotional agility. They have the capacity to open up to their emotions and stories, name their thoughts and emotions, and then create a gap so they can let go of those that aren’t serving them.
Potentially strong leaders are adept listeners. They tend not to be reactive and seek to understand by asking great questions, seeking clarity and giving space for others to finish their thoughts.
When seeking a mentor, you look for someone who has been in your role and has more experience or someone who’s been in the industry for a long time.
Those who offer to assist new employees or a less experienced team member who has expressed an interest in mentorship are exhibiting the behavior of a potentially strong leader. Informal leaders identify strengths in their colleagues and give them useful feedback that enables them to make a valuable contribution. If someone gives feedback that’s clear, actionable, timely and constructive, they’re essentially empowering people the same way great leaders do. Every time they inspire others to care about the larger goals of the organization so that they may also become culture ambassadors, they are helping to build a stronger team and should be noticed for their leadership potential.
Makes The Boss Look Good
The unofficial leader seeks to protect his/her boss’ reputation and protects him from making mistakes. They try to deflect a mistake and provide information discreetly that benefits the boss. Potential leaders see it as part of their job to help prevent their boss from making an error — they direct their boss to the right place and show him that they’ve got his back.
Influences During Difficult Times
During difficult times, look for the individual who thinks like a leader. They avoid blaming and shaming their colleagues. The more empathetic, realistic and proactive they are, the more likely they are to emerge as a true leader. If someone is upset, the best thing a leader can do is listen. They use factual information and real data to move the team toward problem solving. Leaders look for patterns of reoccurring challenges and seek ways to solve them.
Doesn’t Wait To Be Asked
In almost every group, my hunch is there will be a percentage of people with no official authority who will be inclined to help — and influence others to do the same. First, notice people who have built their credibility by being excellent at their job. Spot those who show competence, make themselves likable by offering and accepting constructive feedback and continually find ways to build up others on your team. When the going gets tough, notice that person who uses his expertise to alleviate stress and to help fix things. These are the types who inspire other people to care, too. They will be good candidates for leadership roles as they show signs already of helping to strengthen a positive corporate culture.
Those who exhibit these positive traits will ultimately be more effective in a leadership role by engaging and retaining those people who will also help to accelerate the growth of your firm.
By Beth Kuhel
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