This Week's Leaders

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Leaders at every level - How do you find them?

Talent Optimization suggests that organizations take a "leaders at every level" approach to the people in their organizations. I'm wondering what processes might be out there to identify and celebrate those leaders. Many companies identify High Potential Leaders... but how do you identify those "leaders-in-place" who may not be interested in advancing to higher levels, but still display amazing leadership qualities! How do you find them, and how do you celebrate them?


  • I came across one way of finding such people recently - they will literally tell you because they feel so strongly about being an individual contributor.

    @Alexandra LeBlanc is an example of this. She even talked about it recently in this video.

    She answers some part of the "how do you celebrate them" in the video as well.

    Would love to hear your (and everyone's) thoughts on what Allie said.

  • That's a great question!

    One of our beliefs is that everyone has significant untapped potential for leadership. That belief comes from the Warren Bennis quote: "Becoming a leader is becoming yourself; it is precisely that simple and at the same time that difficult." As many of us know leadership starts with self-awareness...that understanding of our behaviors and how they relate to others.

    Many may not want to be that high potential leader and the responsibility that comes with it. In our experience we have worked with plenty of organizations that have multi-layered teams that have defacto leaders at the lower levels...someone who has taken a leadership role but has not been formally recognized as a leader within the company.

    Typically companies will celebrate these lower level leaders with more responsibility and greater leadership responsibility. But that may not be what the individual wants. A client of ours has a very small IT department, and the leader of that group is perfect for the position, but he isn't focused nor does he want greater organizational leadership and responsibility.

    If we look closely, we can easily find those leaders. They are all around us. The question might be to what level of leadership do they want to ascend?

  • Steve, your right on the money with your observation – Leaders, are all around us!

    In a nutshell, all that’s required is a clear overview to mitigate the fear of change and a slight shift in thinking.

    Many small companies simply need awareness that a better model exists and it's not overwhelmingly complicated. The vast majority of small business owners, presidents, senior managers, and entrepreneurs are busy putting out fires and reacting to the urgent demands of their business and have no time to focus on seemingly vague facets of their companies like “culture” and “leader development.”

    Explaining in the simplest of terms that designing a team or an entire organization with intent will not only reduce the stresses of continual hiring and firing, increased profitability and higher customer satisfaction will typically follow.

    Once we develop a people plan and start collecting data, it's likely that we will find superstars and leaders already on the team, many of them will be hiding in plain sight. Celebrating actions that align with company values not only deepen the culture, but it also becomes fun for the entire company.  

  • AJ, thanks for the nod, and your response....esp the last para. It's all about understanding people and the data behind that. And I really like the "many of them will be hiding in plain sight."

  • Love this thread. One might also look at who people respect and listen to. Who are the influencers on your team? Who do other people look for input or insight from? Whose opinion do they trust and respect? If they were working on a project, who would they pick as their partner? Looking for who others are turning to who aren't in formal leadership roles can help identify who's leading at the level they're currently at.

  • Dorothy, You raise an excellent point. We should be monitoring how our Leaders are doing and recognize their success. I like to look at what the data tells us:

    which leaders have low turnover numbers?

    which leaders have helped their employees acquire new skills or develop into new roles?

    which leaders have high survey results from the employee satisfaction survey or other employee listening tools?

    There are many ways to measure how Leaders are doing and recognizing this is important to celebrate the behaviors that are needed to sustain a company culture.

  • Love the question @Dorothy LaMark

    Although it seems that for every one of these "leaders in position" that have amazing capacity, there are a handful of "leaders longing to be in position", this is an awesome conversation. How can we balance the desire to continue to promote someone to enhance the value they bring the organization with their needs as an individual? Clearly, retaining these people is critical to business success!

    I saw a great example in this context in a previous role. In that situation, a leader was offered a "promotion" three times, and turned down each of them to remain focused on the department he was running. He is an excellent leader and manager, and still does his part as an individual contributor on occasion. Even more relevant here, his manager not only defended his decision, but she made him feel great about it!

    When speaking with him last, I asked why he had turned down the last offer he was extended. He said "because it takes me farther away from what I love, and lessens the impact I have on my team doing the work I have true passion for." "Besides, we just had another baby and I don't need any more responsibility!"

    This resonated with me deeply, of course, but I heard that the leaders a few levels up responded with frustration. In digging a bit deeper, my former colleague let me know that he made "enough" money and was deeply fulfilled. In chatting with his manager, I asked how she dealt with the situation:

    she replied: "I know how valuable he is, so I simply remind him of that often, and insulate him from the pressure to take more on coming from above".

    What a shockingly simple solution... Make a team member feel really good about what they're doing, meet their financial and emotional needs and protect them from flak...

    He's been with the company for over 10 years and I can't imagine him leaving!

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