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    Jul 15, 2021    |   Camille Labrie

Identifying Potential Leaders in Your Organization: What Do They Look Like?

3 minute read

Written by I/O Psychologist, Justin Deonarine


Have you ever come across an employee who you thought was going to be highly successful in your organization? What made this person stand out to you? Leader motivating team members

…These aren’t rhetorical questions. Chances are you can picture someone right now, so if you had to identify the qualities that made them stand out, what would you say these are? Did they take initiative? Did they consistently achieve their goals? Did they form strong connections with others? It’s ok if there are some factors that you can’t quite put your finger on.


One unfortunate reality is that many organizations aren’t great at identifying their future leaders. A lot of the criteria used to identify who will move up in the organization is based on subjective factors. Whether the candidate is internal or external, it often comes down to how much others identify with the individual. This is known as the “Like Me Bias”. Or, what I like to call, “the enemy of diversity.”


The other common challenge is that many individuals who possess the critical characteristics for exceptional leadership end up flying under the radar. What are these critical characteristics? There is some variation across industries and organizational cultures, but I’ve been analyzing leadership data from the Work Personality Index, and have found some common themes:

  • Bending the rules: Leaders do not always have the convenience of rules and structure available to them. Successful leaders are the ones providing the structure for others, so if a leader seeks to use established rules as a crutch for decision making, they may not find the support they’re looking for. Ideally, those in leadership positions need to be comfortable with bending existing rules (rather than breaking them) and challenging the status quo.
  • Taking the initiative: Future leaders should also be willing to take initiative when the opportunity arises. This quality complements their need to pave the path for others, rather than following a path that others have left for them.
  • Getting buy-in and cooperation: High Potentials need to be more comfortable with persuasion than the average employee. Part of being a successful leader involves getting buy-in from others, so they will need to find strategies that help them convey their vision. Also, these leaders are more comfortable setting forth clear goals for others to achieve. They’re not micromanagers, but they are willing to provide clarity and direction for those around them.
  • Adaptability: There is more pressure to show higher Flexibility in a leadership role. Those who can step up to the challenge are comfortable working within a plan, but are open to adapting as the situation unfolds. In the big-picture context, these individuals are much more comfortable with change.


Given that these findings are from our data, they are clearly measurable. The attractive part of introducing objective data into your high potential identification process? It helps you with the onboarding process by revealing the individual’s strengths and areas for development. As a result, a development plan can quickly be formed and implemented, to ensure that the new leaders can hone the skills that they’ll need to succeed.


Filed under: Leadership Development