Identifying leadership potential: Track record trumps talent

A colleague faced a dilemma. She had a leadership position to fill and a two potential candidates. Both displayed leadership ability, had the skills and qualifications to undertake the role, yet one stood out from the other. When he said ‘yes’ he meant it, he could adapt to change, he was not self-seeking and importantly he displayed a genuine relationship with and interest in his co-workers.The other person was less reliable, sought to further his ambition at the expense of others and was not well-regarded by his peers.

The decision was simple. One had a better track record than the other.

Track record is probably the most important consideration for identifying potential leaders, especially when they are known within your organisation. There are a few key elements of a good track record, including:

  • Reliability
  • Flexibility
  • Humility
  • Quality relationships

A track record shows a pattern of behaviour. None of us are perfect, but a good track record is skewed toward the positive side of the ledger.

How do you rate?

1. Reliability: Am I true to my word?

If I say I will be there, I will

If I say I will do it, I will

I look for people whose ‘yes’ means ‘yes’. It doesn’t mean that they will always say ‘yes’. I would prefer that if something can’t be accomplished because of time or extenuating circumstances that they would say ‘I’m not able at to this time’, then we can address the situation and work out a solution.

2. Flexibility: Can I roll with it?

I’m OK if plans change

I will step in to fill a gap

I can put my agenda aside

Organisations are dynamic and a leaders need to be able to adapt to change and adjust their plans. There are times when something needs to be done that is not specifically in the your role, but is crucial to fulfilling the mission.

3. Humility: Is it all about me, or not?

I don’t need/seek acknowledgement

I prefer recognition for the team

The Level 5 Leader, as described by Collins in Good to Great displays a combination of humility and will, demonstrating “compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.” They look out the window (toward the team) when successful and in the mirror (at themselves) when things don’t go quite right.

4. Relationships: Am I liked and do I like people?

I have positive relationship – 360 degrees

I empower and develop others

I look for opportunities for my team to shine

Leadership is about people first and the successful leader in the 21stC values quality relationships, because they value people. For the emerging or potential leader it is equally important to ensure that time is invested in people, not just those who may give a professional advantage.

But what if your track record is a little patchy?

It’s never too late to get back on the right track. It does require making some commitments, especially in these few areas. Make a few resolutions, write them down and share them with a confidante or mentor for accountability. Things like:

  • I will say ‘no’ if I can’t get to something, rather than say ‘yes’ to everything and not show up
  • If my team need me I will deviate from my schedule
  • I will consider the team’s success to be my success
  • I will set a goal to meet five new people each week


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