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How to Determine if Someone is Ready to Progress to a Leadership Position


Travis Wright

Date Published

Jan 11, 2017
5 minute read

“LEADING is what you do when you 1) set strategic direction, 2) align resources, 3) inspire action, and 4) are accountable for results. Period. LEADING is available to anyone at anytime. Our world is full of books on ‘Leadership.’ Our world has enough ‘Leaders.’ The problem is that we have too few people LEADING,” courtesy of  The PRIMES.

In a previous white paper from The Clearing, we discussed employee engagement and its impact on productivity. One of the recommendations from this paper was to actively engage leaders through experiential learning and development. Managers spend enormous amounts of brainpower choosing whom to promote and organizations spend substantial resources based on that decision. How do managers determine when someone is ready to take on a leadership role? How can the organization be sure the new leader is right for the long-term benefit of the organization? This problem is especially acute in technical areas. Will the software engineer who is great at coding be good at resolving conflicts between team members who were peers until recently? Is the intelligence analyst with the superb critical thinking and analytical skills ready to inspire her team to tackle that big new initiative? The same skills that make someone a good operator do not necessarily make a good leader.

Here are three things to consider when deciding if that rising star is ready to tackle a leadership position:

Fit: Conduct a thorough assessment of your team’s structure before deciding to fill a vacant leadership role. Is this a newly created role or are you backfilling someone who moved on in the organization? What does the potential leader bring to the leadership team? Will this new leader fill a gap? What about the personalities on the team – do you have a team full of extroverts and need to balance it with an introvert? Will the personalities of the rest of the team overshadow the new leader? Doing a hard analysis now will ensure your new leader is set-up for success in his or her new role.

Presence: A smart worker does not necessarily make a star leader – people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. The key differentiator is emotional intelligence. Sometimes called EQ, emotional intelligence is generally defined as the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others to accomplish tasks. Sit back and observe the prospective manager as they interact with their peers – how do they currently treat their coworkers? Do they take time to listen to multiple perspectives before making a decision? While some behaviors can be coached and improved over time, be sure to know the candidate’s weak areas before placing them in a new role. Need help improving your own EQ – start here.

Practice: What better way to evaluate a potential manager than with a beta test? Nothing can replace good old-fashioned experience so find opportunities for them to lead teams for a short duration. Have a pop-up project with a short deadline? Put your potential manager on it and let them show you what they’ve got. After the test project, be sure to talk with members of the team to get their assessment of the candidate’s performance. Talk with the candidate and ask what their experience was like. What aspects of the project appealed to them, what was most challenging, what didn’t they like? This assessment should give a good sense of the support they will need in their new role and most importantly, you can provide feedback and training before they assume the role.

It’s important to recognize that many people aren’t natural leaders. They may possess many of the skills that could make them great leaders, but they may require training on how to use those skills effectively in a leadership position. Training and mentoring can make the difference between a successful leader and one that fails to meet expectations.