I often get asked whether great leaders are born or developed. I firmly believe that leadership is both natural and nurtured. “Recruiting a non-leader to be developed is like asking a horse to climb a tree.  It just isn’t going to happen.  Thinking every person you place in to a formal senior leadership role is a leader or will develop over time is unrealistic and works on false hope. They must have some natural leadership talent that you can develop in to something great” says leadership guru John Maxwell. The best people to recruit for your firm are those with potential leadership ability. It is nearly impossible to develop people without leadership potential and it saves you time and efforts by investing in the right people.

How do you identify people with leadership potential? Here are some characteristics that distinguish natural leaders from others:

  • They can build effective relationships with people.  The ability to do this becomes more important the more senior the role.  Without it, people will not follow them which is critical in any leadership role
  • They have integrity and strong values and role model the right behaviours.  People watch what leaders do rather than what they say.  Actions speak louder than words.   People trust leaders who do the right things and set a good example for the whole team
  • They have the ability to grow and improve.  Is the person coachable and open to feedback?   Are they self-aware of their weaknesses and also know how to leverage their strengths?    This is not only in technical areas but also in their behaviours, attitudes and personal resilience.
  • They serve others rather than themselves.   This is an intrinsic motivation to help others, develop others and empower others through creating a great environment that delivers great outcomes.  This ability to want to develop others has to be part of the makeup of a potential leader.  Being able to identify a self-serving leader versus a serving leader is important and is not something that can be faked.
  • They deliver.  They execute, they meet their commitments and they ensure others are held to account.
  • They strike the balance between people and task which is important for any leader.

People may start at different levels along the leadership journey, but they must have the attributes listed above as well as have great role models all levels of the organisation in the right environment to thrive.   With all of these factors working in their favour, people can learn, grow and develop to be terrific leaders with great coaching, mentoring and on the job training.

Lou Holtz put it well when stating “I’ve had good players, and I’ve had bad players.  I’m a better coach with good players”. Coaches in sporting organisations start with athletes who have some natural ability.  It is no different with leaders.  They have to have some natural talent and a predisposition to want to be leaders along with the right attributes.

So when looking for a leader in your organisation, make it easier on yourself and elevate people that give you the best chance of success.   Your culture and people will thank you for it.