Seven Ways to Spot an Emerging Leader

by Brent Eichelberger
Commerce Bank

You’ve heard it before: it isn’t products or technologies that make a company great. It’s the people.

And the fact is, it’s true. Even the most revolutionary new product or whiz-bang technology will fail if there aren’t great people—led by strong, visionary leaders—who can guide its production, marketing, sales, distribution and operations, while ensuring high-quality, consistent performance over time.

Identifying those people—especially those who might be hiding in plain sight within your organization—is one of your greatest challenges.

You are not only looking for a certain set of skills. You are seeking to find people who have—or are interested in developing—deep institutional knowledge of your company. People who can build lasting client relationships. Leaders who can build camaraderie and positively influence their coworkers.

The question is: How do you spot these leaders-in-the making? There is no magic formula. Based on my work with growing businesses for nearly 30 years, however, I’ve noticed that talented, emerging leaders share many common qualities. Here are seven to keep your eyes open for:

  1. They are active in the community. Emerging leaders don’t wait for opportunities to be presented to them; they actively seek them. That’s why many serve on nonprofit boards or volunteer in the community. Look for the ones who raise their hands, as well as those who always seem to offer a new idea or fresh perspective. These are often people who are driven to accomplish great things.
  2. They are well-rounded. Young people with perfect GPAs may be “book-smart” and look good on paper. The question is, do they live in the world of theory, or can they apply their book knowledge in the real world? Rhodes Scholar finalists, for example, are asked in interviews not only about their academic interests, but also what reality TV shows they prefer. Being well-rounded and able to relate well with others are not just nice social skills—they are often critical to a leader’s long-term success.
  3. They are achievers. Make no mistake: emerging leaders are smart and strategic-minded. They also consistently produce more and better work than their peers. Those around them often defer to them as experts. These are people who know how to get results, whether working alone or with others. They stand out in a crowd without trying.
  4. They encourage others. Emerging leaders know, almost intuitively, that’s it’s not all about them. While they are interested in their own personal development, they are also willing and able to train and mentor others. Leaders understand the value of developing other leaders. Many not only have a knack for building talent, but also a desire to see others reach their greatest potential.
  5. They aren’t afraid of change. It’s human nature to resist change, even when it is change for the better. Emerging leaders, however, are often agents of change. Watch for people who take risks, are eager to initiate new ways of doing things, take on new projects, and if necessary, challenge the status quo.
  6. They are strong team players. While emerging leaders are willing to swim against the tide, they don’t want to do it alone. To the contrary, the best emerging leaders insist on collaboration and consensus-building. Look for people who sincerely seek out other people’s input and opinions, which they then use to shape their own ideas. Because of their ability to listen and communicate, these are people who are well-liked and respected by their peers.
  7. They are motivated by more things than money and power. The millennial leaders now emerging have a different outlook than those of earlier generations. Many seek less structure and more flexibility in their work than their parents and grandparents. More vacation time or a work-from-home option may appeal to them more than a large year-end bonus. So will the chance to make a true difference in the world.

The good news is, you can find emerging leaders almost anywhere: on LinkedIn or other social media, serving on charity boards, sitting next to you at church, or down in your office lunchroom. But they may not look like the leaders of your generation. So pay close attention—and trust your instincts. iBi

Brent Eichelberger is the Illinois Market President for Commerce Bank, covering the Peoria, Bloomington and Champaign regions.

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