I am often asked by clients to identify who among my participants have the leadership potential when I conduct leadership or team building workshops. each time I wish I am clairvoyant so I can give them a more accurate answer. As I am not, I talk to them about leadership behaviors or qualities demonstrated by participants during the sessions like ability to communicate their opinion clearly, facilitating skills when asked to work in groups etc. I make clear however that these competencies do not guarantee leadership. these qualities support leadership but they do not define leadership. Besides, There is hardly any accurate way to pinpoint leadership potentials just by observing participants behave during a two or three-day session. I made enough guessing mistakes to know this to be true.
My experience tells me that if you want to separate the chaffs from the grains as far leadership is concerned, you have to test them to find out who will step up to the plate and make a difference. Yes, a leader has the sense of urgency to do that, a non-leader will keep the status quo or worse turn in a mediocre performance. A leader will enroll and engage people to realize a vision, a non-leader will instruct or worse, they won't. A leader will turn the seemingly unessential role to a highly contributing role, a non-leader will take advantage of the seeming lack of importance of the role to do nothing.
I use two places to do my non-scientific observation on leadership behaviors. The first one is in my workplace and the other one, In my former Toastmasters club . At work, I get a chance to rotate leadership roles or assign non-leadership roles and observe how my team members engage other members to make things happen. All things being equal meaning given the same amount of support, materials and encouragement, a leader will step up to the plate, engage others and make a difference. A non-leader will not. In fact even if you give a real leader a hard time and make it easy for a non-leader, the leader will prevail, the non-leader will give you excuses.
Let me share with you what I see at Toastmasters. For those who are unfamiliar, Toastmasters is a club where people hone and improve not only their communication skills but more importantly in my opinion, their leadership skills (visit www.toastmasters.org for more information). Let me further substantiate that. Those who have leadership skills or potentials improve their skills when they participate in Toastmasters, those who don't have it, waste the opportunity. In this club, members get the opportunity to become leaders when they take on positions from President to Sergeant-At-Arms, all of which are leadership roles, believe it or not, for as long as a leader takes on the role. Let me take the role of the Sergeant-at-arms position, the least of the officer roles, it seems but in the hand of a leader, the sergeant-at-arms make sure that where he or she makes a difference, things get better and better like meeting organization or protocol. A non-leader may hold any of the important President or Vice president positions and trash it.
Speaking of leadership positions, I think all positions are leadership positions in the eyes of real leaders. That's because they make it... they can't help it. They have to lead. Ask successful leaders when they started leading and they'll tell you that it all started when they are still struggling to make a difference because they are not in the position of authority..
So, how do we spot them? how do we separate the leaders from the non-leaders? The answer, observe them demonstrate the following:
- Desire to improve things
- Communicate the desire
- engage others (including peers and boss)
- Show how it's done
- make things happen.
Give real leaders opportunities to demonstrate this and they will deliver. If you find them, take care of them. They can be an asset to your team.