So, you need leaders. What are we looking for when we’re looking for leaders? Often in organizational conversations, we start making lists of qualities we’re looking for. Young leaders rarely have everything on those lists, in the same way that a plant shoot just coming up through the soil doesn’t look like the mature plant. You can recognize the plant by noticing the characteristics it has in common with the mature plant. The same is true with people. Can you guess what kind of plant is in the photo?
What does “potential” look like? When you google the word “potential,” this is what you get.
What does leadership potential look like? How do you recognize capacity that is not yet mature, and possibly not visible at all?
Sometimes you can see it in people’s thinking. They think way beyond what they are responsible for. They see connections and systemic problems. They are dissatisfied to only work on something small when there is a larger problem overshadowing what they are doing- impatient, restless, sometimes arrogant -confident that they know how something should be done. Sometimes you see it in audacity – the boldness and courage to step apart from peers and do they think is needed – rule breakers. They want to change things. Sometimes you see it in character, a maturity beyond the norm of their peers- rock solid, unflappable, persistent, wise- will choose the right thing despite obstacles or peer pressure.
Sometimes you can detect potential by whom the person admires or aspires to be like. When it comes to potential, “like attracts like” is a principle that Dr. Bobby Clinton has identified. Often people admire those with similar gift mixes.
One of the best ways to discover or reveal potential is through assignments, delegating responsibility and watching what happens. The chance to lead something can surface both strengths and weaknesses. I am often surprised by the creativity and diligence demonstrated by those who are given responsibility that stretches them. Capacities that were previously hidden come into the light. At the same time, self-awareness of the potential leader grows! They become aware of gifts and abilities they didn’t know they had.
What kind of leaders are you looking for? Who is in your circle who has shown potential? What kind of task can be delegated to him or her that would surface their untested capacities? The key thing to remember is that leadership potential typically is not by definition the same as a mature form. Look for the shoot, just coming up and give it a test!
What else would you look for in identifying young leaders?
PS. The plant is a KIWI!
Attribution for photo: By Enrique Dans from Madrid, Spain (Zarcillo de kiwi) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons