Have you ever found yourself in this scenario? You have a team member who’s asking for more responsibility. You have an organizational need where they could serve. You see their potential. You know he or she is great at their job, but you wonder: Are they really ready to lead?
How can you assess fairly the character, skills and experience of those you want to promote? What’s the best way to test your understanding of their potential?
Here are a few filters I have found helpful for my conversations with those I am considering to lead others:
1. Check their interest and perspective. Leading others is not like leading yourself. People can be really good at their job and not be ready or interested in leading others. A star performer knows how to get things done by sticking to the task until it is done. A great team leader, by contrast, has made the mental shift and the skill shift necessary to take joy and be effective at getting things done through others. Here are a few coaching questions to test for these shifts:
- Would you like to be a team leader in the future?
- What does being a team leader mean from your perspective?
- What strengths would you bring to the role of team leader?
- Where does character fit in their leadership perspective?
- What outcomes seem to motivate this person?
- Does this person speak of serving others as a part of the leader’s role?
2. Explore their experience. Not all leadership roles and experiences happen at work. What other management-type experiences has this person had? Where have they volunteered? Where do you see evidence of leadership growth in their experience timeline? The goal of hearing about their experience is to listen for their people skills and self-awareness. Here are a few coaching questions that help you explore their leadership experience:
- What was most fulfilling to you in the leadership roles you have had?
- How do you inspire others to work hard and give their best?
- What do you believe made you successful in that role?
3. Test Organizational Awareness. If they are interested and have experiences that demonstrate leadership—and not just star performer behavior—it is time to check for their organizational understanding and alignment.
In this phase you are listening for their understanding of the organization’s overall health. Do they identify any needs or gaps that should be addressed? What opportunities do they see on the horizon? Do they seem to be able to connect the dots of the organization’s stated strategy in an articulate way?
- What is your perspective of our mission, vision and values?
- Who are the current team leaders that you think are effective at making progress toward our mission, vision and values? Why do you think they are effective?
- What are some barriers you see that are hindering the accomplishment of our vision?
4. Observe general leadership behaviors. If possible, watch the leadership actions of the person over time. Interview those who have worked with him or her. Look for indications that they are already behaving as a leader with character in certain areas or responsibilities even without the title. You are seeking to measure how others—including those they might eventually lead—respond to them on a personal and professional level.
- Does he have a vision for the organization?
- Does she come to meetings ready to make the ideas of others better?
- Is his or her input only about their own area of work?
- Does he have a natural network of people he taps into for collaboration?
- Does she tend to be a loner? If not, who does she go to for assistance?
- Does she believe there is a bright future for the organization that she can help reach?
As you go through this process of conversation and observation remember that measuring someone’s potential is not an exact science. None of your candidates will get a perfect score.
That’s OK. You weren’t a 10 when you started either! But at some point someone took a leap of faith with you and you grew. Don’t forget that when you elevate someone to the role of team leader they won’t be jumping without a safety net. Helping people grow as they learn to lead others is the safety net you provide for those you lead!