Every business owner I know wishes that all team members were leaders, to proactively tackle the challenges of growth, interact effectively with customers on their needs, and eventually step into your role. Yet you know that real leaders are hard to find, and often remain hidden just below the surface of your team. Are you sure you know what to look for, or how to develop potential?
In fact, our natural human tendency is to see all team members as followers, or to continually view them as they appeared on the day they joined the business. My objective as a business advisor is to incent you to take a fresh look at everyone on a regular basis, and recognize the behaviors of team members who are beginning to display the leadership attributes you need:
Look for a commitment and ability to deliver results. Most often this means a focus on the objectives of the business as a whole, and taking the initiative to drive results, rather than just work hard. You need to look for higher team collaboration and productivity around this hidden leader, as well as high individual performance.
Effective collaboration with other people, as well as leadership, requires a high level of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. Some people have a high IQ, but can’t leverage that into leadership.
Focus on team members who develop relationships. I’m not talking about the social butterflies, but people who always seem to engage with the right people to help get the job done, both upward and downward. These people are never hesitant to give credit to others, and thrive by delivering win-win solutions, rather than win-lose outcomes.
Relationships outside your business can be just as valuable as relationships within. The best potential leaders are always seeking new connections at industry conferences, in community relations, and by communicating with key customers and influencers.
Notice people who always take a customer perspective. Many people on your team will seem to focus on internal processes, or are willing to take shortcuts to optimize costs and profits. You need leaders who focus on delivering value to the market and dealing with competitors, addressing customer and competitive needs now and in the long-term.
It’s no secret today that customers are more demanding than ever. In addition to good customer service, they are now expecting a total memorable experience, from quality, to shopping, and delivery. No team member leader can afford to ignore customer views.
Recognize those with consistent individual integrity. Your team members with high integrity demonstrate sound moral and ethical principles and always do the right thing, no matter who’s watching. Of course, that assumes that you nurture a culture that rewards integrity. Look for team members that learn from their mistakes and don’t blame others.
Team members with integrity are people you can trust. Look around you, to single out for leadership opportunities those key people that you give your toughest challenges, with confidence that they will resolve it without embarrassing either you or the business.
Increase your individual communication practices. You won’t recognize hidden leaders by observation alone. You need to be proactive in regularly communicating to team members one-on-one, understanding their needs and aspirations, and making sure they understand your strategy and goals. Mentoring and coaching are also important.
Foster a culture that rewards risk taking and innovation. By default, most team members hesitate to take the risks of leadership, due to fear of your penalties, or lack of support. You need to be positive about the need for constant change and innovation in your business, support their efforts, and reward people for all initiatives and learning.
Increase your delegation and review practices. In my experience, business managers that have the most trouble finding hidden leaders are ones who are reluctant to delegate real responsibility to others, and insist on micro-managing. You have to be the role model for leadership and delegation, and let your people learn to deal with issues themselves.
You may be the single leader that initiated your business or organization, but you will find that many more leaders are required to keep it healthy and growing. Thus a key part of every leader’s job is finding and nurturing those hidden leaders in every organization, and recruiting new ones from the outside. You can’t be successful in your business long-term, or career, without this task.
*** First published on Inc.com on 6/10/2022 ***
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