Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • January 11, 2012
  • minute read

How to spot potential leaders 

As a leader, one of your key roles is to identify and develop potential future leaders.
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. Screens.
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 7 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. Sports.
Imagine you actually achieve your heart’s desire and hit the big time in your favorite sport – NFL, NHL, NBA, English Soccer League, Bundesliga – whatever works for you. You turn up in the locker room on day one and… you start telling everybody how kaizen, six sigma, employee orientation or the five p’s of marketing are really what your team-mates need to start thinking about – not how to be a great player and win games.
That’s precisely how you sound when you start making sports analogies every time you get together with your colleagues at work. Yes, there are a few points at which business and sports intersect, but they are fewer than you think, and by constantly pulling out a sports analogy every time a business discussion arises, you simply make it clear that you’d rather be there than here.
3. Autopsies.
Yes, it went wrong. Yes, it was Jane’s fault. Leaders don’t whine – let it go.
4. Affectation.
‘Check me out’ is fine, ‘LOOK AT ME!!!’ isn’t. If you choose to call attention to yourself by the use over-studied body language, convoluted verbal gymnastics or outre 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.
5. Composure.
It’s only eleven minutes in to this meeting and you’re jiggling your leg under the table like you need a fix of something white and powdery – 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.


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  1. I’m taking a screenshot of this blog and using it as the wallpaper on my computer!! It’s that good.
    Seriously Les, THIS was your best post yet. I could immediately visualize the “managers” I have dealt with over the years…knowing (but not necessarily why) they would never be sitting at the head of the table.

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