16 November 2021

Identifying and developing your future stars

Group of people looking up at the stars in the nights sky

How do you spot the rough diamonds and develop your future leaders? Leadership expert Hiten Bhatt shares his thoughts...

People make great businesses and great leaders develop other great leaders. It is people, talented people that drive organisations forward and allow them to achieve success. One of the most important things an organisation can do is to identify potential future leaders and give them the support and guidance to flourish within their organisation.

Your star performer who exceeds expectations and delivers results may not necessarily be the best person to promote to a leadership position, as being great at their job does not mean that they will be a great leader. Leadership is not about what you achieve on your own but your ability to engage a team to achieve greater results.

Identifying future leaders is a crucial activity for organisations to stay ahead of the competition but it can be quite tricky to get right. Leadership is one of those subjects that has been analysed, discussed and/or written about probably since the beginning of human history and no matter how we may try to spot leadership potential through a candidate’s CV or interview questions, assessment centres or role plays, the bottom line is true leadership emerges while on the job. However, there are certain clues and things to look out for that could indicate an individual being a great future leader.

Leadership traits to look out for

1. Emotional Intelligence EQ 

Emotional intelligence has been defined as “a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way”. It is a skill that research is proving to be a highly desirable trait for successful leadership. Observe your future leader’s interactions with others, do they care about their colleagues? Are they attuned to picking up on verbal and non-verbal cues? An individual with a high level of empathy could indicate you have a future leader that has the potential for demonstrating EQ in a leadership position.

2. Calm under pressure 

Challenge, change and adversity are inevitable things that we all face in life but what separates leaders is their ability to remain calm under pressure. A leader has even more responsibility to develop a sense of composure and poise amid chaos than those that are not in that position. The reason is other people are relying on the leader for direction and a sense of certainty when change or crises hits. A leader is someone whose sense of calm is not just for themselves but for those around them at times of great challenge. Look out for those individuals who seem to keep it together and demonstrate a resilient attitude when everyone around them is losing their head and flapping.

3. Courageous and willing to challenge the status quo

Leaders are not afraid to take calculated risks and make bold decisions, they are willing to try new ideas and constantly look at how things can be improved. Keep an eye out for individuals who are willing to speak up in meetings or challenge the status quo. Your potential future leaders could be the ones that don’t just complete a work project but deliver the project better than you expected. They are the ones with new ways of doing things and fresh approaches to old challenges. Look out for individuals who don’t fear trying new things and potentially failing at them, that shows signs of a growth mindset, which is a powerful trait for any leader to develop.

4. Effective communicator and relationship builder

Take notice of individuals who have a positive influence on others through the way in which they communicate. Optimistic individuals often have an infectious energy that can inspire and motivate the people around them. These potential future leaders are encouraging and appreciative of others, as well as being great listeners. By supporting others and nurturing relationships, leaders can develop trust within their teams. Look out for the person that can uplift team spirit through humour or just through the way in which they interact with people which has a positive influence on your team culture.

The above personality traits are things to look out for when trying to identify your potential future stars, but remember your potential leader is not the finished article, in fact honing the skill of leadership should be an ongoing process. If you spot someone with potential how should you go about developing them? Every individual and organisation is different and therefore a future leader’s development plan will be unique to their particular set of circumstances.

The principles you should keep in mind when seeking to develop a future leader

1. Support their journey towards leadership

Once you have identified your future leaders, it is very important to set up the appropriate support systems that will help them on their journey towards becoming leaders within your organisation. You should consider providing your emerging leaders with a structured mentoring and coaching programme that way it will be easier for you to track their progress. It can also be very reassuring for an individual to know that they can turn to experienced individuals for guidance, advice and support from a professional perspective. Providing your future leaders with regular and constructive feedback is very important to let them know how they are performing and to encourage them on their journey.

2. Allow them to gain a wider organisation and industry perspective

Leaders need to understand the big picture, they need a bird’s eye view of their organisation as a whole and a broader view of the industry landscape in which their organisation operates. You should ensure that your potential future leader has exposure to different departments and functions to fully appreciate all aspects of your organisation. They should also be encouraged to research your industry as well as attend related events to gain knowledge, experience and insight into possible future directions your organisation and industry could move in.

3. Provide them with challenge

One of the reasons why talented individuals leave organisations is because of a lack of challenge and growth. Growth is natural and we all want to progress to the next stage of our careers, this happens when we are challenged in the work that we do. Give your future leaders work projects that stretch them and improve their problem-solving abilities. Providing these individuals challenging work will reveal more about their capabilities and capacities, it will force them to develop even greater skills and boost their confidence.

4. Reward and recognise achievements

The journey towards becoming a leader can be challenging with a lot of work involved and therefore, it is vitally important to recognise your future leader’s achievements and milestones along the way. Taking on extra work or more responsibility should be rewarded through financial incentives as well as others gestures of appreciation and trust. As your future leader’s develop you should give them more autonomy and avoid micro-managing them, this sends a powerful message to your future leaders that they are trusted and respected.

The danger of not identifying and developing leadership talent is that your competitors will be looking out for those future stars and potentially entice them away from you with better development opportunities. The last thing that you want is for talented people who show potential to feel stifled and leave your organisation because they feel there is no room for career progression. Once you have identified your future potential leaders it is imperative that you put a plan in place to develop and craft this raw talent. Over time the investment you make in their development journey will benefit the organisation in the long term.

Hiten Bhatt

Hiten Bhatt

Hiten Bhatt is a guest writer for MHR, a Coach, and an Author on the subjects of Wellbeing, Leadership, and Personal Development.

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