Identifying Leadership Potential

There is no single definition of “leadership”, which means different things to different people. These include “getting others to follow”, or “getting people to do things willingly” or simply “inspiring and influencing” other people.

Some people are ‘born leaders’ whilst for others this skill needs to be nurtured and developed (although even those with innate leadership qualities need developing!) Leadership doesn’t need to be at a high level; parents are leaders for their children, school teachers are leaders and managers can be leaders.

However, today, leadership is more about motivating and influencing, winning the hearts and minds of others, rather than controlling or commanding.

What is leadership?

There is much academic research on what leadership is, and how it differs from management. Management theories go back to the 19th century and tend to focus on planning, doing and organising. Leadership theories came much later, around the 1960s.

There is no single type of behaviour that makes a good leader. Whilst a person may lead effectively in one situation, it does not always follow that he/she will lead so well in others. For example, Churchill was a great leader in wartime, but not in peacetime. A business leader may be especially good during times of change but not so effective when the business is on more of an even keel.

When we think of good leaders, however, they do all have one thing in common: passion.

Being a leader is not just about being a manager – the two are different, although many people are both. Managers are given the authority to instruct a team on what to do; the team members do as they’re told, as that’s their job. Good leaders will get others to follow them, or do as they tell them, but by motivating and positive influencing, rather than commanding. Getting people to follow you doesn’t mean forcing them to do so, but influencing them to want to follow you.

Leadership encompasses:

  • Envisioning an improved situation (for instance, achieving an organisational goal)
  • Determining the best path to reach the desired end
  • Inspiring in others the self-motivation to achieve the goal
  • Boosting energy (for example, by recognising success).

The management versus leadership debate was placed in sharp focus by an analysis from London Business School by Professor Julian Birkinshaw detailing how a failure of management contributed to the banking crisis. This failure is attributed partly to the “aggrandisement of leadership at the expense of management”. Birkinshaw highlighted the need for individuals to demonstrate both management and leadership qualities if long-term business objectives are to be achieved.

Identifying leadership potential

Identifying those with leadership potential is critical to business success. We cannot assume that just because someone is good at his/her job, he or she would make a good leader. A natural athlete, for example, may not necessarily make the best coach.

Not all leaders behave in the same way, however it is agreed that there are certain attributes that most leaders possess in order to develop loyalty and trust. The CIPD list the following:

  • General intelligence: to make sense of the complexity and difficulty of the task.
  • Technical or professional knowledge and competence in their particular fields: this is often the bedrock of respect for leaders, but is never enough.
  • Personality: leaders should be energetic and committed, maintain contact with their people, and understand their strengths and weaknesses.
  • The ability to inspire: this quality may be rarer than some of the others and is perhaps the most difficult to develop.
  • Listening, sharing and delegating skills (and not interfering unnecessarily): in groups of more than around five people it becomes impossible to know all the necessary detail.
  • Self-knowledge: to understand his/her own strengths and weaknesses, which in turn will enable the leader to turn to others in the group to compensate for any biases or deficiencies.

Leadership skills can be tested in recruitment situations, especially where assessments are carried out as part of the selection process. If strong leadership skills are required for the role, group exercises or discussions are a good way of allowing those candidates with the right skills to demonstrate them.

A group assessment day also allows you to observe how the individuals interact with each other. If you can, provide lunch as part of the day and encourage discussions between the candidates when they are more relaxed and feel they are not being assessed. You can soon see who the leaders and followers are in such situations!

Understanding your own leadership style

In order to develop leadership skills, the person must first understand his/her own leadership style, as this can vary greatly.

There are tools available to help identify the type of leader a person is, such as Myers Briggs (based on Carl Jung’s eight psychological types) and Lewin (who identified three leadership styles: authoritarian or autocratic; participative or democratic; and delegative or free reign).

A quick Internet search brings up various ways in which to assess a person’s leadership style. These range from quite basic questionnaires (reading a statement and answering whether you agree or disagree), to complicated matrix-type tools.

The type of tool you use will depend on your own organisation, how you want to assess these skills and your budget. This can range from using an external consultancy to visit you to assess your employees’ styles, developing a personal development plan for each of them; to a short on-line survey which may suit your needs.

We recommend that you try out whichever method you choose on a few managers initially to see if you agree with the results or not! Once you have the results you can then start to develop a plan for each individual for areas to work on. If you are using an external company to carry out the assessments for you, a report specifying areas for development would normally be part of this.

Management development

Management development focuses on the performance and potential of leaders and on enhancing management capability throughout the business. Rather than ‘training’, which is more about specific knowledge (such as recruitment procedures in place or how the IT systems work), management development is about ensuring that those managing others develop a strategic approach and manage their staff in a way which ensures they are clear about what they are there to do and are inspired to do it to the best of their abilities.

Importantly, management development is not just about attending courses. Although these will contribute, it can be as much about learning from the experiences all around you every day at work and outside work, watching other people operate, reflecting on yourself in relation to that and being able to apply it.

Management development is about being creative with people, helping them get the learning they need to manage themselves and others at whatever level of the organisation. It should be a career-long process which includes giving things a go and reflecting back and learning from experiences.

Done well, you will have managers throughout all levels of your business who are properly preparing for their next move and you will see a marked increase in their effectiveness.

Management Training Courses

We offer a variety of management training courses which cover a wide range of managerial areas, these courses include:

  • Managing Conflict at Work
  • Equality, Diversity & Inclusion – Management Development Training
  • Effective Appraisal Skills
  • Managing the Grievance Procedure
  • Holding Difficult Conversations
  • Managing the Disciplinary Procedure
  • Effective Communication Skills at Work
  • Managing Poor Performers at Work
  • Recruitment and Selection
  • Employment Law for Managers
  • Leading the Team
  • ILM Level 3 Award in Leadership and Management (Online)
  • ILM Level 5 Award in Leadership and Management (Online)

We are currently scheduling our 2023 dates for the above courses. If you would like to find out more, or arrange a date for your team, please contact us.

We are here to help

If you require any further support with your business including your HR, Payroll or Health and Safety, please contact us and speak to a member of the team.




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