How do you identify leadership qualities?

I have always been a proponent of promoting from within your organization whenever you have an employee who you trust and in whose potential you have a high degree of confidence. But how do you recognize someone’s leadership qualities? Here are a few indicators to consider – not necessarily in isolation but as an overall package. 

Listening versus talking

A good leader does not need to be the center of attention or to engage in any type of battle for positions. They don’t dominate the conversation, and they’re typically not the loudest person in the room. Instead, they tend to practice active listening. They ask thoughtful questions and help others think things through before arriving at a conclusion. They don’t typically jump in to offer up their opinions right out of the gate. You’ll also notice that the individuals with leadership qualities are often addressed by others in conversations more often than other participants. 

Taking blame and giving credit

Being a leader means taking responsibility for failures and handing out praise for successes. When interviewing candidates for any position, I frequently ask about an example of a failure and an example of success, and always pay attention to when someone uses “I” instead of “we” and vice versa. Consider being alert to those nuances in your one on ones with team members as well.


Resilience in the face of challenges is a valuable trait for any employee, but it’s even more important if you’re in a leadership position. Who on your team can adjust quickly to new circumstances and sees opportunities where others see problems and barriers? Who is willing to do what it takes, even if it’s not in their job description, to get the team on track? 

Locus of control

One of the characteristics that I value most in an employee is their locus of control. People with leadership qualities tend to have a strong sense of their ability to control the outcome of situations. They don’t have a victim mentality, but instead, they focus on the things they can control and have a high degree of confidence that it will be enough. In addition, individuals with leadership potential are able to help others build up their locus of control. 

Discipline and investment in professional development

Looking at highly successful leaders, you’ll detect a pattern of discipline, designed to help them be intentional about how they structure their day. They are smart about their time management, as they create routines. They have the self awareness to know when they need to tackle a specific type of task. Look for this level of self-discipline and awareness in order to assess leadership qualities. If an employee structures their day based on an awareness of their performance levels as opposed to personal preference, it’s generally a good sign. Furthermore, a team member needs to be invested in their own professional (and personal) growth and understand that no matter where they are in their career, there’s always more to learn. 

Effective communication with everyone

We prefer that every member of our team have great communication skills, but when identifying leadership potential, it is crucial that the individual knows how to communicate effectively with everyone. This includes employees outside of their department, customers (happy, indifferent, and unhappy), and any stakeholder on any level. Can they break down difficult concepts to non technical users? Can they sell a vision? Do they exhibit high levels of empathy towards others? 

No show-offs

People with leadership potential don’t typically need to show off. Their words are intended to add value to the conversation, and their actions are meant to make an impact, not to elevate the way they are perceived by others. 

Risk taking

Leadership involves taking calculated risks. A team member with leadership potential does not need an insurance policy for everything. They are deliberate in their actions and welcome being held accountable. While they don’t overstep their “jurisdiction”, they don’t need someone else to make every decision for them. They also understand that no outcome is guaranteed and know when to take a chance. 

What about you? What are qualities that you look for in a potential leader?

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