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How to Spot Leadership Potential in a Rookie

I recently covered the topic of when it’s right to hire on potential. But what if we are not only looking to fill a particular role, but actually want to hire people with the potential qualities to become future leaders of our organisation?


Leadership, to a large extent, shapes and helps to define a company. Without a strong leadership team, you’re not going to get very far.

Yet time and time again, I see the mistake of promoting from within, based solely upon experience and professional or academic achievements – or even head hunting individuals from outside with similar star status. Often these organisations find that these “leaders” fail miserably in inspiring others. Just because someone has broken the annual sales record for the past three years doesn’t mean they can lead a sales team, to cite an obvious example.

So what qualities should we be looking for if we are aiming to bring in the future leaders of our company?

Think about who you responded best to as an employee; was it the leader with the best resume, the MBA and a great track record in the company ….or the one that inspired you, mentored you and who made it a pleasure to come into work every day?

So how about focusing on some of the personal qualities that go into great leadership? Here are a few key ones:


Leaders must be able to see where they want to get to in order to take people along with them. With vision, a good leader presents a picture of the future and persuades those in the team that it’s worth working towards. What’s the vision of the candidate sitting in front of you?


Passion is the fuel that drives the leader towards his or her vision. Without being inspired yourself, how can you expect to inspire others to keep going, especially during tough times? Do the candidates sitting in front of you have fire in their bellies and glints in their eyes when you are discussing what they like doing and what the future holds?

Honesty and Integrity

Without integrity in business, just as in life, it will be impossible for people to respect you; they are therefore unlikely to follow you; so leaders need to value this and demonstrate it consistently. How can you get an idea of the integrity of the candidate sitting in front of you?


There is no place for shrinking violets in leadership; a leader often needs to make tough decisions and to lead the team into “battle”. Without courage, the team takes a backward step. How about your candidate? Are they on the front foot and ready to lead?

Loyalty and Commitment

Fierce loyalty and commitment to the team backs up the passion and courage with which a true leader leads. He or she needs to see the bigger picture, of course, but must also be ready to stand by their team through thick and thin. Is your candidate likely to flee the nest at the first sniff of trouble?


Despite what some management textbooks may say, it is simply not possible to always be analytical and objective in business. Organisations are made up of people and this means that both teams and individuals experience “people problems” that are part of everyday life. A leader needs to have the emotional intelligence to be able to empathise with his or her team members and to lead them as people, not just as employees. People who excel in their role within the company don’t always have the “life experience” to be able to understand other people’s problems. Does your candidate understand what makes people tick as human beings? That’s key to getting the best out of them.

These six characteristics sit alongside a leader’s skills, decision-making, strategic nous and judgment to set him or her apart from the rest.

Being able to determine the above qualities is sometimes difficult in an hour-long interview; but there is a way to elicit responses that will reveal a lot. That’s a subject for another post but bear in mind that it could be the difference between hiring future leaders for your organisation and hiring people who can only go so far.

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