Are leaders born or made? Honestly, who cares? The fact is, they can be really hard to find—and if you work in HR, we’re pretty sure you know what we’re talking about. Companies everywhere are experiencing a “leadership gap” and are struggling to fill it. In fact, only 11% of companies surveyed in last year’s Global Leadership Forecast reported having a “strong” or “very strong” leadership bench—the lowest in 10 years.
This all might sound like a daunting problem, but we’ve got some good news: There isn’t a shortage of leaders in your organization. In fact, there are probably plenty of potential candidates out there—you just haven’t figured out how to spot them yet.
We’re going to help you out with that first step, but even better, you can check out our white paper down below to learn how you can build up your candidates with a solid leadership development program!
It might sound obvious, but you can’t find your company’s future leaders until you know what you need. So let’s start there: What should you be looking for?
Narrow the Search: Spot Your Candidates with 3 Foundational Skills
A quick Google search will tell you that LOTS of people have opinions about what makes a great leader—and that’s because great leaders come in countless forms. There is no universal list of qualities, characteristics or statistics that is true for all people who are capable of leadership. However, according to our database of over 500,000 skills, we can pinpoint three foundational skills that a leader should possess. If you have someone in mind that has at least two of these superpowers, they deserve a spot on your list of candidates.
One of the first things you should look for is a foundational skill that’s hard to teach: empathy. Future leaders should demonstrate the ability to understand their colleagues’ viewpoints and make decisions while taking them into consideration. Empathetic leadership boosts employee engagement, but it’s bigger than that—did you know it also has a proven positive impact on everything from retention to innovation? With the stressful effects of the pandemic, being able to understand how employees feel and think is more important now than ever. Developing leaders who have a human-centric approach to work will ensure that your people feel supported.
Employees with leadership potential should also be good communicators. Similar to empathy, communication as a foundational skill enables them to build trust with their colleagues, give and take feedback well and actively listen to others. This is especially relevant because, frankly, it’s a skill that a lot of your current managers may lack. According to a recent Interact survey, a notable 69% of managers often feel uncomfortable communicating with their employees. If this rings true for your organization, then finding future leaders with solid communication skills is a huge step in the right direction.
The last foundational skill you should look out for in your candidates is self-awareness. In a leadership context, this means they need to understand who they are as professionals—what their strengths and weaknesses are, how they react in certain situations, how they perform best—and apply that knowledge to their work. This essential skill will allow them to continue developing and learning over time. Interestingly, women in executive positions tend to possess this skill more often than men (19% vs 4% according to one study) — one of many reasons why diversity in leadership roles is key.
You may have noticed that all three foundational leadership skills we named are human skills (otherwise know as soft skills). This isn’t a coincidence. Though it is definitely possible to develop skills like empathy or active listening over time, people who already possess the ability to understand and connect with their colleagues are much more likely to become the kind of empathetic leaders that your company will need to thrive through the challenges and years to come.