Talent Management: How Do We Scout For Potential?

Talent is multifaceted. It involves more than competency. It has to do with values, relationships, priorities and behavior.

ONE of the essential skills of a leader is the ability to spot potential. This is one of the most important leadership competencies. Because leaders cannot do everything alone, and have to depend on others to execute the work, they need to spot the potential in others and to develop them.

It is a truism that “It’s time to end the myth of the complete leader: the flawless person at the top who has got it all figured out. In fact, the sooner leaders stop trying to be all things to all people, the better off their organizations will be.”

Talent is multifaceted. It involves more than competency. It has to do with values, relationships, priorities and behavior.

What do I look for in “potential”?

Check their world view and value practices in life: What is important to them and why?

Part of my conversation with my staff is to discover what is important to them. What is their world view and what drives these perspectives? What values do they hold important and consistently practise?

“Leadership has many voices. You need to be who you are, not try to emulate everybody else.”

The question I ask constantly is, “Is she/he authentic?”

Because I value people and relationships, this is an important criterion to me as I assess a person’s potential. This is often seen in how the person behaves and treats their subordinates. Many are able to manage upward but few can manage downward well.

Look at how they relate to “unimportant” people: How do they treat janitors, drivers, domestic helpers, children and waiters?

How do they treat people who appear to be of lesser importance or significance? Leaders respect people for who they are, not for what they can become or what position they hold or how much they earn.

I know of a leader who always treats waiters kindly and with great respect. He loves to engage in respectful conversations with them. His heart is in the right place. He is well loved by his staff because he has such a generous spirit.

Observe their response during moments of crisis and vulnerability — how do they deal with them?

Every leader has a weak side, an area of vulnerability. How they respond to their own vulnerabilities speak loudly to me. When their vulnerabilities are exposed, do they become defensive and blame others? Or do they acknowledge their own inadequacies? Do they apologize when they are wrong? Do they recognize that others are better than them when they falter? Or do they put other people down?

Another aspect is their resilience during crisis. People who are able to describe the transformative positive effects of a lost promotion, personal illness, the untimely death of a loved one, and feelings of loneliness and rejection usually possess signs of potential.

I want to see how well they recover.

Assess their self-leadership quotient — how well do they know themselves?

No leader is perfect. The best ones don’t try to be. They know what they can and what they cannot do. They usually learn to focus on their own strengths and Find others to compensate for their limitations. A high-potential leader has good self-leadership.

A person who lacks self-awareness and self-management is an unimpressive candidate for greater leadership roles.

Check their attitude toward people who succeed and fail — can they enter fully into the success of others and share in the failures of others?

Sam is a wonderful leader. He doesn’t just applaud performance, but appreciates the enormous sacrifices his staff have put in whenever he knows that they have failed despite trying hard.

He comes around them and assures them, “I know you have tried very hard but the result was not what we expected. Let’s learn from it and move on.” That brings not only incredible relief but also wonderful affirmation.

When his team succeeds, he is the first to go out and speak well of them, sometimes publicly praising them when it is appropriate. No wonder he is a high-performing leader.

Inability to enter fully into the success of others is a sign of poor self-esteem.

Understand their structures of personal discipline: what are they doing to enhance their own learning?

Great leaders are curious. I cannot but think of the late Peter Drucker, who even at old age has an incredible insatiable inquisitive mind. “Discovering your authentic leadership requires a commitment to developing yourself. Like musicians and athletes, you must devote yourself to a lifetime of realizing your potential.”

I would like to know if my staff is committed to learning and if they have a disciplined structure of learning. As Kroger CEO David Dillon observed, most people who have become good leaders were self-taught, “The advice I give to individuals in our company is not to expect the company to hand you a development plan. You need to take responsibility for developing yourself.”

Appreciate their shared vision and values — how aligned are they to the organization’s mission and values?

The last and final aspect I look for in someone with potential is his or her alignment with the vision and values of the organization. It does not mean that people who are not aligned do not have high potential but it is just that they may not Fit in the organization. They normally will not last long. It may be better for all concerned that they serve elsewhere.

Scouting potential is only the first step in talent management. Next comes the harder part, how to nurture and retain them.