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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • August 23, 2013
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5 Ways to Spot a Potential Leader 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

For every leader, one of their key roles is to identify and develop potential future leaders. That means they're lookin' at you, kid.

For me, the most telling environment in which to assess leadership potential is that old stand-by, the management meeting. Precisely because it is often routine, prosaic, even boring, the contrast between those who have leadership potential (and those who don’t) is often stark. Here are some of the most obvious contrasts:

1. Engagement (Screens vs. People)

Managers look at screens; leaders engage with people.

If you want to be taken seriously as a leader, put the screens away when you’re in a meeting. Look at the people in the room, not at your laptop. Talk to them. Focus on them, not at your handheld or your smartphone.

Conversely, if you want to be thought of as a manager rather than a leader, fire up your laptop and start pecking at it during every meeting you attend. Or grab your phone every seven minutes and stare intently at it. Make clear that the day-to-day tactical detail of your job is way more important to you than the strategic issues everyone else is there to discuss.

2. Dealing with (other People's) Failure

Yes, it went wrong. Yes, it was Jane’s fault. Leaders don’t whine–they let it go.

3. Affectation 

“Check me out.” is fine; “LOOK AT ME!!!” is not.

If you choose to call attention to yourself by the use over-studied body language, convoluted verbal gymnastics or outrageous clothing, don’t be surprised to find you’re consistently overlooked for leadership positions.

Those already in leadership positions know that if you’re that insecure, leadership will chew you up and spit you out.

4. Composure

It’s only 11 minutes into this meeting and you’re jiggling your leg under the table like you need a fix of something, and you want me to trust you in a leadership position? I don’t think so.

If you’re gnawing at your nails like armageddon is approaching, chomping through every candy at the table like it’s your last, or tearing the label off your water bottle like you’re disarming an explosive device then I’m not 100% sure I want to hand you the delicate controls of my business.

True leaders are too intensely focussed to get agitated, too engaged to be nervous, and too invested to be bored.

5. Focus

Most people can start an all-day meeting engaged and alert. The indication that you might be leadership material is the degree to which you’re engaged and alert at 3:37 in the afternoon, when the carb load of lunchtime and the dreaded perusal of a multi-tabbed spreadsheet combine to narcoleptic effect.

Assuming the subject is important, how focussed and creative are you when things get squirelly at the end of the day?


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