I was touring a CEO client’s manufacturing plant recently when we dropped in on a specialty production room, only to find it was strangely quiet. Just then, the young technician in charge of the area tumbled into the room, grabbed a notebook and headed for the door.
“Little slow today?” the CEO asked the tech.
“No,” the young man replied. “I just got caught up so I could go out for a bit on the floor and learn a new piece of equipment.”
Now, there’s a plant manager in the making, I thought myself. Or, at least a COO or better.
It got me to thinking how easy it is to weigh the wrong factors when we seek to identify those early talents, those people with the real capacity to lead the enterprise. We are drawn to drive, ambition, smarts and aggressiveness, but in my nearly 20 years coaching emerging leaders, a different and perhaps overlooked list of leadership qualities comes to mind:
- A zeal for continual learning The complete opposite of the know-it-all or smartest person in the room. Are they curious, do they have a profound respect for the unknown?
- The emotional depth to handle failure with both humility and resolve Those who seek to avoid failure may boost their ego but miss the lessons and take the organization down with them. We will make mistakes again; what we want to avoid are the patterns of failure.
- Risk without recklessness Fearlessness is foolishness. It takes as much or more acumen to know when to say “no” or “stop” or “redirect.” A sober assessment of risk is the governor of impulse.
- Seeing courage as a choice, not a personality trait The former selects the right fights; the latter feeds on itself. Courage moves at the right time.
- Self-awareness and situational awareness. Can you get out of your own head and into the heads and hearts of others?
- Ability to engage and inspire others You can push people to a point, but real momentum comes when people feel pulled by a purpose you can articulate.
- Solving problems simply
- Integrity Popular usage has left this to mean honesty, but it’s roots are in the notion of wholeness, of continuity across all areas of life, of a strength that comes when we are consistent and grounded.
We spend far too much time infusing our emerging talent with knowledge, functional skills and business acumen. Those matter, but the far greater pay-off is to refine and deepen the natural qualities of leadership we can see every day in people if we pay attention.