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Identifying potential leaders during tough times

By Darren Hill

While there’s plenty of challenges that arise amid a crisis, there are also culture-defining opportunities to be found if you look for them. One of the opportunities available to all organisations, regardless of industry, is an enhanced ability to identify leadership potential in existing team members. In an environment of rapid change and increased pressure, certain behaviours that signal strong leadership potential can be amplified.

Let’s explore some of the behaviours to look out for in your teams so that you can begin to support and develop the next generation of leaders within your organisation.

They prioritise principles rather than self-interest

Leading through significant challenges or even crises requires principled leadership. You’re looking for individuals who exhibit behaviours that align to time-honoured principles of leadership such as confidentiality, avoiding conflicts of interest, and ethical decision making.

When opportunities arise, with new approaches up for grabs, motivated individuals can cut corners or prioritise their own ambitions in front of others and even the company. If you can identify people who hold true to principles (even when it’s difficult) through crisis, you might just uncover your next generation of leaders. 

They have a possibility mindset

With global uncertainty looming and the constant barrage of largely negative news updates, it’s normal for people to slip into a negative mindset with lowered motivation levels. However, during times of crisis, you can identify leadership potential in the way that your team members show up to brainstorming sessions and collaborative meetings.

If there’s someone embracing a possibility mindset and actively working to raise the energy of the team through exploring alternative options, you may have a potential leader in your hands. Now this shouldn’t be confused with a positivity mindset. Pollyanna-type thinking (an overly positive outlook) isn’t what we’re coveting, but rather possibility. Is there different or better way? The ability to see opportunity amongst uncertainty is a quality that’s much needed in the current environment and amplifying this through leadership development opportunities is a worthy investment.

They regularly take initiative

In a work environment filled with rapid change it’s easy for projects to fall by the wayside and for mistakes to become a more regular occurrence. Those with leadership potential in your teams will be quick to rectify errors and take the initiative to ensure that projects get back on track and stay on track going forward.

Your future leaders may need guidance, for sure, but they’ll also be the ones taking initiative to add additional value and streamline existing processes.

They support their teammates

With many organisations facing restructures in times of crisis, it’s likely that the workload of remaining team members will increase. Those with leadership potential will be the ones stepping up to do what they can to support their teammates through the transition.

This might look like taking on a self-appointed mentoring role to junior team members or coordinating collaboration between teams to ensure that information is being shared across the organisation.

They show strong self-leadership

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic many organisations have shifted to remote working, and with it, have created a more autonomous workforce. With workday schedules and routines largely being left up to the individual, it is now easier than ever to identify strong self-leadership skills.

Self-leadership in a remote working context usually involves setting and actively working towards achieving goals, effectively prioritising workload and knowing when to reach out for help.

They are a strong communicator

Whether they’re communicating with the team over a virtual meeting or providing an update on a project, strong potential leaders set a high standard of communication. They’re clear in their explanations and aren’t afraid to ask questions or share an alternative perspective.

When they need assistance or are facing a challenge they’re quick to communicate their roadblocks and seek out the help they need. They’re active in all digital communication channels when working in a remote environment and encourage other team members to do the same.

After reading through these points has your mind gone to certain members of your team? If so, make a note of their names and consider how you can further support their leadership development over the coming months.

Whether it’s through providing virtual training opportunities or by offering mentoring sessions with experienced organisational leaders, taking the steps to foster internal leadership talent is always a worthwhile investment.


Darren Hill is a behavioural scientist and the author of Dealing with the Tough Stuff.

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