Spot the leader: Workplace development

Many qualities make up a great leader. Here are three to consider when looking to promote.

Everyone deserves a chance to get ahead. It says so right in your company handbook. But let’s face it: not everyone should get a shot at the top jobs. That’s just not practical–or even desirable. It’s like picking stocks. Savvy managers want to invest the most money and time in those employees who are most likely to succeed at the next level, says Jocelyn Bérard, managing director of DDI Canada, a human-resource consultancy firm in Toronto. But which employees to bet on is trickier than just promoting today’s top performers.

Make no mistake. Next-generation managers are likely a company’s current high achievers. But performance and leadership potential are too often confused. “If you can’t even perform in your current role, there’s not much chance you can if you move up,” says Bérard. “But one of the biggest pitfalls people make is focusing only on current performance. It’s OK to do that, but it’s not enough. We need more.”

Many qualities make up a great leader, but Bérard says three key traits to watch for include:

½ An interest in developing talent and bringing out the best in others

½ Being receptive to feedback and, perhaps more importantly, taking action on that information. The best leadership candidates seek out feedback instead of waiting for it at performance review time

½ The ability to enjoy ambiguity. Leaders often find themselves in grey zones where there is no clear-cut answer, so they have to thrive in those situations

While there is a danger of picking too many leadership candidates, organizations have to target enough to ensure they get a representative and diverse mix of skills, Bérard adds. It’s not sufficient to pick just salespeople because the current CEO is a salesperson. One way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to form an objective panel to discuss who might move up and why. “Your output isn’t having a name on the list,” says Bérard. “Your output is to have a ready leadership.”