Pinpoint & Power Potential

A New Way of Identifying Emerging Leaders

The future of work has been a staple of practically every HR agenda over recent years, but the global pandemic has undoubtedly acted as an added catalyst. The landscape of work is changing and so are the types of leaders we need. A recent article in Forbes acknowledged this, commenting:

“While some aspects of leadership, such as setting a vision and executing a strategy, will remain, the future leaders will need to possess a new arsenal of skills & mindsets to lead effectively.”

Organizations need to take this opportunity to ask themselves:

  • Whilst no-one can predict the future, how do we reimagine ourselves to futureproof success, rather than simply return to what we were doing before?
  • As well as anticipate what’s next, have we responded to change that has already embedded itself, particularly when it comes to the DE&I agenda?
  • Whilst world events have placed most organizations in unchartered waters, what is unique about our organization, situation and vision?

What this makes clear is that a traditional profile of potential is no longer going to cut it. A universal and pre-determined idea of what makes a good leader no longer goes far enough. Whilst there are key characteristics associated with leadership potential backed by scientific data (our own research highlights this too), organizations need to go further.

We have three key questions that every organization should ask when strategically identifying emerging leaders for today’s world:

  1. Potential for what?
  2. Potential for where?
  3. Potential according to whom?

Potential for What?

Capture the key characteristics of potential with the unique nuances separating good from great in your organization.

Traditional models of potential can be restrictive in terms of what they say and measure. They tend to present one very clear definition of potential that applies to all organizations.

There are key characteristics for predicting leadership potential, and where these are backed by thorough research and scientific data, they are not to be discounted.

However, we need to dive deeper. We know from working with our own clients, one generic model of potential could not identify future leaders in two different organizations. Whilst there will be overlap on the core, there will be differences on the key – this flex is what unlocks truly successful leadership.

A simple analogy would be the cake recipe. Start with the evidence-based research on leadership potential generally; your core ingredients - flour, eggs, butter and sugar. To make that recipe stand out from every other cake, we need to flex and finesse to your taste - your organizational nuances; sector, strategic objective, culture, environment, competition in the market etc.

Only by including that flex in the potential for what , can we identify the future leaders to deliver the organizational impact you need.

Potential for Where?

Explore alignment to different types of leadership roles and create career paths for sustained performers.

In a recent survey, 96% of organizations said the types of leadership roles they need are diversifying and nearly half (48%) said the number of specialist leadership roles in their organization is increasing.

In the same way organizations shouldn’t restrict themselves to looking at one definition of leadership potential, they shouldn’t limit themselves to looking at one type of leadership role.

Career stream indicators are extremely valuable for highlighting the types of leadership roles or career tracks individuals are naturally aligned to. Are they more likely to be professional experts, people inspirers or pioneering innovators?

Capturing a lens on this has a dual benefit. Understanding the types of leaders coming through increases the chances of successfully closing any gaps and healing any weak links threatening the strength on your pipeline. We often see pinch points in the pioneering space, so by gathering data relating to this, you can be proactive rather than reactive... which is often too late.

It also widens the opportunity of progression outside of what is often an exclusive cohort. Career tracks can be laid for everyone, whether identified as high potential or not. A recent survey illustrated that 57% of organizations accept 20% or less of nominations on to their leadership programs. This means you are left with a situation where you are technically ‘rejecting’ more people than you are accepting.

However, unlike a recruitment campaign, the unsuccessful individuals are already employees, so careful consideration is needed. Telling someone you don’t class them as high-potential is incredibly disengaging and potentially damaging.

Being able to position the program as something that helps everyone understand what their career path may look like provides a framework for positive development planning and career conversations outside of the limited hi-po group. It also strengthens organizational structures by developing people towards places they can add real value, outside of that very exclusive top tier.

Potential According to Whom?

Minimize opportunity for bias and build more diverse leadership pipelines.

Despite unparalleled pace of change in many areas, the needle might be moving slower than we think when it comes to leadership development. Research from the Josh Bersin Academy showed 75% of companies do not have DE&I included in their leadership development.

To improve the diversity of leadership pipelines for a new world of work, we need to look at who is identifying individuals as high potential.

Most nominations onto leadership development programs involve the manager. Over half of the organizations in a recent survey relied on 'manager only' nomination, with just 7% saying they used self-nomination alone.

The trouble with this is that managers often struggle to effectively identify potential. This is not just something we hear about from clients, we have seen it in our own research too. The reasons are multi-faceted, but unconscious bias is one of the most problematic. People identify those similar to them as high potential which is not only inaccurate, it results in a pipeline of mini-mes , seriously lacking in any diversity.

The 'tap-on-the-shoulder' manager- or stakeholder-nomination approach can also present motivational issues as these individuals haven’t put themselves forward. Ambition and motivation are important aspects of potential and manager/stakeholder-nomination approaches by default fail to account for this. Self-nomination ensures you have it nailed.

Self-nomination isn’t a silver bullet, however. Diversity issues can still occur; ‘You can’t be, what you can’t see’. If people don’t see themselves represented higher up in the organization, they are unlikely to put themselves forward. There is also the issue of ‘willingness vs readiness’. If certain experiences are key to being successful, this criteria should be brought forward and made transparent at the start.

Why aren’t more organizations opting for a self-nomination approach? Talking to Talent teams, hesitation around a hypothetical equation of increased opportunity and transparency will equal more rejection and disengagement. However, it could also be argued that the idea of this opportunity never being made available is disengaging and people already feel overlooked. A counter-balance to this reluctance is also the previously mentioned notion of career tracks.

Unlocking Potential for the New World

As organizations look forward and seek to identify their emerging potential, it's time to break free of traditional and restrictive definitions.

Having the freedom to flex and capture the unique selling points of your organization is key to identifying who can lead it successfully.

Broadening the spectrum of potential to look at types of leadership roles and career tracks is critical for building stronger pipelines.

Bringing the opportunity for progression to a wider audience, with a scalable and inclusive solution, is vital for positively impacting diversity.


To find out more about how our suite of assessments can help you identify exceptional leaders, click here or email [email protected]