What To Look For In Future Leaders - Proteus Leadership
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What To Look For In Future Leaders

Someday, the current leaders won’t be there and someone else will need to fill their shoes. It might not be soon, or it might be very urgent due to demographics, turnover or organisational growth. Whatever the reason, the question needs to be posed and answered – who are our future leaders?

This question is often asked by leaders and organisations – and most often help is required in creating processes and development tools to help people successfully grow into leadership roles once they have been identified. Those ‘how’ steps are important but can only be implemented once the ‘who’ has been identified.

What should you look for? How do you pick future leaders?

Let’s start with what not to do.

Most people pick future leaders by looking at their most technically proficient person doing the current work – they pick the best salesperson to be the sales manager, the best accountant to head the accounting group or the most productive person on the crew to supervise the production crew.

While this happens frequently – and can work out – there are at least two major flaws to this approach:

  • The skills required to be good at a job are not the same skills required to lead people doing that work.
  • If you move someone from where they are excellent to where they may not be, you are sacrificing the work output that that high performer provided in their previous role.

If your best current performer isn’t who you should automatically pick, who should you pick instead?

Interest and desire 

There are lots of people who seem to have the raw materials to lead, but aren’t really interested. They like being a salesperson; they like being in the field; they like doing IT projects – in other words, they love their current work. The role of leader requires a change in perspective and a change in work routine. Make sure the people you see as future leaders like the picture you see. If not, moving them into leadership will likely be painful for everyone.

A mindset of learning 

The role of leader requires new skills and a willingness to live with shades of grey and ambiguity. No one moves into a leadership role without needing to learn a lot (and for a long time). If you are looking for people to move into supervisory and leadership roles, look for people who are willing to learn – which is best seen by how much they are already learning in their current role.

Healthy humility

The best leaders learn how to support their team, allow the team to shine when successful, and take the blame personally when things don’t go so well. Not everyone can take this humble approach easily or naturally, yet it is a characteristic of great leaders. Recognise too that when you promote someone from a job they were great at to one that will be new to them, humility will be needed early and often if they are going to succeed.

A positive attitude 

Face it. Attitude is contagious, and the attitude and outlook of a leader is most contagious of all. Everyone wants to have teams that are positive, upbeat and with a can-do attitude. That attitude always starts with (and is reinforced by) the leader.


This list wouldn’t be complete without this critical element. We need leaders who are honest, trustworthy and of high character. As you look at future leaders, don’t get enamoured by skills and potential and miss this important aspect. Organisational horror stories often start when this trait has been missed or overlooked.

While there are many traits that you might have thought about including on this list, chances are all of those other things are skills that can be learned. And you can teach people the skills they need to be successful, but those skills can’t (or won’t) be learned, or applied properly and effectively unless the foundation listed above is in place first.

You might consider other factors related to the style and approach of people and how it will match and mesh with the culture of your organisation, but even some of those things can be adjusted by the leader, if the expectations for success are made clear early.

It is important to note that everyone has the potential – the raw materials – to become an effective leader. Potential however, is only the start. It takes decisiveness, discipline and the right mindset to hone and use that potential to create the skills necessary to effectively lead others.

By Kevin Eikenberry
Published with permission from the International Institute of Directors and Managers – (IIDM) – www.iidmglobal.com


Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

“Our core purpose is to Create Great Leaders that will in turn build Great companies and develop Great teams.”