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How to Identify Future Leaders at Your Company

Finding future leaders in your company

Leadership is complex. The soft skills involved in influencing other people are often very subtle. Leadership can be taught. It has emerged as one of the most important fields in business education. What makes a leader; women in leadership and a plethora of related questions underlie our everyday business.

A book by Dr. Steve DeKrey of HKUST, “Leadership Experiences in Asia: Insights and Inspirations from 20 Innovators,” found that there is no single leadership model that applies to doing business in Asia. So where does this leave you and your SME business? Leadership skills are important.


Leadership Traits

We are all familiar with great leaders ranging from Winston Churchill to Jack Ma. The traits that these leaders exhibited in their professional and personal lives are a starting point for role modeling. If you are going to try to identify future leaders at your company then these may be useful.

“It takes one to know one”. Start by assessing yourself. If you are really a leader, then you are going to find it easy to identify your targets. If you are not, then you may be ‘blind’.

For talent management, you are going to need to attract, retain and develop leaders. Start by looking for leadership attributes such as vision, integrity, collaboration, a results-driven orientation, and customer-oriented behaviour.


Leadership Development

Searching for the next generation of business leaders represents one of the biggest challenges for any company. How to identify future leaders is your leadership challenge. Here are some signs to look for in your current or future staff.

Desire: The most critical aspect of emerging leaders is their desire to lead; this desire will push them to accept new roles, challenge the status quo, and accept experiences that guide them towards leadership in the future.

High performers: Future leaders are not just good performers in their current role; they consistently and visibly go beyond their existing duties to deliver results. Engage these leaders, give them feedback and build relationships with a mentor.

High potentials: Watch out for employees who actively seek out more responsibility and new learning. Help them on their personal development journey and push them beyond the responsibilities in their current role.

Influence: If an employee is a born leader, he or she will inspire others to follow him or her regardless of title or position. Watch out for employees who others turn to when they have questions.

Values: Not only are their values aligned with those of your company, they should be aligned with others in a high performance team. Listen when leaders discuss their reasons for their solutions to problems and see how that aligns with your business goals and company values.

Inspiration: Emerging leaders help others to grow and build communities of followers. They keep themselves and their team inspired and push others to achieve their goals.


Why leaders stay hidden

Many companies have more leadership power within their ranks than they recognise. Some smart people quickly acquire reputations as rising stars and move up the ranks. Others miss the fast track. Some of these hidden leaders eventually leave, while others remain quietly, without ever reaching their full potential. This leaves the skills, knowledge, and energy they could bring to the company not being properly used. Figure out how to properly use your current leaders and get them to maximise their value added to your business.

There are common reasons why ‘hidden’ leaders get overlooked; promising future leaders can go unnoticed due to bias in the selection process, a ‘language deficit’, or even a strong accent, has been known to cause good people in good companies to be ignored. Failure to fit in to conventional cultural norms is another indicator. Sometimes it can be simply a one-off bad experience on a project, or falling out with someone who is powerful, that taints a future leader’s reputation. Or it could happen to someone who steps off a career path for personal reasons; to start a family or care for a family member who is sick.

Getting the business results you want involves finding and developing the right people for your business at the current time. Finding hidden leaders and developing them will add value to your business.

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