Posted On November 15, 2018

woman smiling and sitting with notepad

A recent article in McKinsey Quarterly entitled “What’s missing in Leadership Development?” begged the question: is there a safe way for HR to identify sooner rather than later who to invest limited leadership development time, effort and funds into – and who not to?

business people group walking at modern bright office interior

It’s a fact of business life that every organisation will need to find, encourage and develop individuals who show leadership qualities. To do this, HR departments can take the time-consuming and expensive recruitment route, but that action is unlikely to find potential leaders who are as familiar with the processes, systems, structure and culture as someone who’s already inside the organisation.

Instead, they’ll have a new recruit who knows little if any of these key concerns, and who will face a long, uphill struggle before being able, if ever, to make informed growth-oriented or risk-adverse decisions about strategies core to the organisation’s future.

So once you’ve limited your search to the pool of possible leaders inside your workforce, then what?  You’ll naturally cast a keen eye over your star performers, but in my experience high achievers don’t always have the right stuff for leadership positions, can be better suited to professional contributor roles, and often fail spectacularly when called upon to turn individual success into team triumphs.

Next, and equally valuable, you can spot leadership potential from among your rank and file workers. To do this, start by asking yourself these six questions:

1. Is the individual a mover and shaker, or an interested spectator?

An employee who make things happen by pitching in to the decision making needed to complete projects have leadership in their DNA, especially if they do so without being asked or with little prodding.

An employee’s engagement levels are not everything, that’s for sure, but if they are truly selfless and view their achievements through the lens of what’s good for their organisation, they’re a good bet for being leadership material.

On the other hand, if they show a tendency to watch and wait for events to come to them, chances are they will find it difficult to handle the unwelcomed tough decisions every leader will face.

And if they’re in it only for themselves, leadership that lasts is not for them.

2. Do they accept blame as well as credit?

Anyone who fesses up to failure, and learns from it, can be identified as a leader, whereas those who shy away from responsibility when things go pear shaped will never command respect from their followers – or at least not for very long.

young woman in meeting

3. Do they demonstrate empathy or, even better, emotional intelligence?

A worker who’s a “people person”, a good listener and a team player with a track record of forming personal relationships has many of the raw materials needed for leadership.

Going a step forward, if they show emotional intelligence – the ability to perceive, understand and manage emotions and feelings – they have a singular trait found in practically all leaders, both those born and those who have had leadership thrust upon them.

4. Are they confident and, more to the point, is their confidence well-placed?

Poise and confidence are essential qualities for anyone needing to persuade and motivate others.

Consider this: in Winston Churchill’s maiden speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons in May 1940, had he stuttered, muttered and shook when he exclaimed, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”, would he have evoked the stirring response so needed in those dark days? Not a chance. Instead, he was confident and resolute, people on all sides of politics believed in him, and the rest is history.

asian business woman in meeting

5. Do they pay attention to detail?

A single-minded, enduring focus on achieving objectives is a pre-requisite for any aspiring leader, whether the goal is simply mundane day-to-day duties or achieving a team’s lofty business outcomes.

For example, if a particular employee being considered for leadership development approaches a new assignment by asking questions, doing some independent research and picking up on details others have overlooked, HR’s investment in their leadership development is well-founded and very likely to be rewarded.

6. A focus on details is one thing, but is there also vision?

A leader without a game plan is a manager with nowhere to go. Is the future leader you have in mind known for seeking out big ideas, new opportunities, a fresh approach or challenging new projects? If so, they have “vision” and “leadership” stamped on their forehead.

If they meander along, however, doing only what’s asked of them to maintain the status quo, you’d be advised to spend HR’s limited leadership development funds elsewhere.

Naturally these are not the only raw qualities you should look for in potential future leaders. You could also add great communication skills, outgoing nature, optimism, resilience, commitment to learning and growth, and more – many of these traits essential, others not as much, but all of them capable of being nurtured and developed.

How you go about finding potential leaders from within your organisation will vary, but start by being vigilant, seeking out the personality traits in employees everywhere that can be effectively developed into the critical leadership skills every organisation must have, today and well into the future.

How can you support leadership development?


For more than a decade, MCI has led the way in leadership development, helping organisations large and small identify and grow leaders needed to ensure success.

From improving confidence and communication with presentation, negotiation and conflict-resolution skills training, to core leadership concepts, practical skills and techniques, as well as nationally recognised qualifications in leadership and management, we’re well-placed to help you deliver on a structured plan for leadership continuity.

Speak to us for more information on 1300768550 or email or send your message below:

    Get our monthly eNewsletter, event invitations, special offers and other goodies. It’s free! We won’t share your email outside of MCI Solutions and you can unsubscribe at any time.