First, and most importantly, we wish you all a very happy and healthy new year. As we dive into 2022, Leadership is perhaps even more important than ever for our organization and all of our clients we are supporting.  

Do you think you can pick out the person on your team who is ready to move up the ladder?  We all believe that we know which people have leadership potential, but the reality is that we’re terrible at it. Research shows that well over a third of rising stars who are promoted to leadership positions aren’t around for long. That is a staggering statistic. 

We’re good at identifying our high performers. They’re the ones who are excelling in their current job: the top earner on our sales team, the graphic designer who created a memorable campaign, the engineer who is constantly improving our product. But are they cut out to lead a department or even just lead another colleague? Do they have the necessary skills?  Do they have the necessary desire? It turns out that figuring out which of our people has the potential to lead is pretty hard.

Over the past few years, things have only gotten more challenging. It used to be that we could walk through the office and notice which employees were taking time to explain something to a coworker, leading colleagues by example, or finishing up a project at all costs. But with much of our teams working remotely these days, that’s not always possible. It’s especially hard when you have to evaluate an employee’s potential with just raw data.

The good news is, there are typically plenty of people in your organization ready to take on more responsibility. It just requires a little more effort to discover them. Below are some tips on how to spot your team’s next leader.

Create a culture of internal hiring

Earlier this year, IBM polled more than 14,000 workers about what they wanted from an employer. It turned out that 43% placed career advancement opportunities at the top of the list. But less than half of them believed that they were being given a chance to rise up in the ranks.

If your organization doesn’t routinely promote or hire internally, you have some work to do. Make it clear that you’re committed to promoting from within when someone new joins the team, then use check-in meetings to bring up chances they have to expand their skills or learn new ones. That same IBM poll found 36% of workers wanted continuous learning opportunities.

Your human resources department might need to change its mindset. According to Harvard Business Review, only 28% of hiring managers make internal searches an important part of their hiring strategy. They should be sending out announcements about new openings and encouraging current employees to apply.

Cast a wider net

The team members that we recognize as having leadership potential often look a lot like ourselves. That’s why so many companies are trying to find ways to eliminate racial and gender bias in hiring.

But there are other promising candidates that are right under our noses. They might have had unconventional career paths or unusual educational backgrounds. Some might have temporarily left the workforce to take care of a child or other family member. It’s easy to assume they aren’t qualified for, or even interested in, leadership opportunities.

Managers certainly should have a say in deciding which employees are ready to move up. But it’s also important to encourage anyone on our team to throw their hat in the ring. A team of researchers at Cornell University found that internal hires who responded to a job posting routinely outperformed those who were promoted by a manager by almost every measure. They were also 20% more likely to stay with the company for the long haul. 

Posting those jobs widely in your organization can feel more like the television show The Voice. It’s a step towards eliminating potential unconscious bias, however slight they may be.

Look for the most important attributes

We all have a checklist in our head of the characteristics that make a good leader. Of course decisiveness, accountability, selflessness and other attributes are important. But there are a handful of other skills that you shouldn’t overlook.

Good connectors. Some people have an innate ability to bridge the gaps between teams and departments. They’re the ones who reach out to others when they need help solving problems and who offer assistance to others who could use their expertise. They aren’t afraid of crossing departmental lines when they need more information. These people are the center of what’s known as “informal networks,” and can make great leaders.

Critical thinkers. It might be lumped in with other so-called “soft skills,” but critical thinking is one of the most important attributes for leaders. Critical thinkers frequently question assumptions, are open to new ideas, and seek out new perspectives. But they are surprisingly hard to find. According to a recent survey, 64% of employers can’t find qualified applicants with critical thinking skills. That’s why you should nurture those on your team who show an aptitude for it.

Emotional agility. This is an attribute that I think is crucial in today’s world, which is why I’ve written about it in the past. For a company to be agile, it needs its leaders to be agile. Emotionally agile leaders don’t let their feelings cloud their decision-making process. They are able to take a step back, examine their reactions, and make better judgments about how to move forward.

There’s always going to be a need for external hires. That’s why at JBC and Janou Pakter, we work with companies who need help finding exactly the right person for the job. But in today’s workplace, where hiring is harder than ever, you also need to be adept at spotting the next generation of leaders in your own ranks. Hiring from within is less expensive, it ensures a cultural fit, and it slows down the revolving door that many companies are experiencing. You’ve already got the talent on your team. You just have to look for it.