Spotting Executive Leadership Talent: A New Needle

Finding Executive leadership talent has always been akin to finding a needle in a haystack. But in today’s environment, many companies are looking for the wrong needle.

Until recently, a candidate’s past performance was the main factor in predicting their possible leadership abilities. But in an environment where senior talent is becoming scarce, and change is becoming more rapid, companies shouldn’t be asking ‘does this candidate have the right skills?’ They should be asking, ‘can this candidate learn new skills?’

In other words, they need to look for a new needle.

High Performers vs. High Potentials

In the past, companies acquired executive leadership talent on the assumption that if someone was a High Performer in their previous positions, they would probably make a great executive leader. And don’t get us wrong, past competency and experience is are still important. But in this new age, most companies should be looking for High Potentials.

What is a High Potential, and how do you identify one?

Potential as it relates to executive leadership can be broken down to these 3 traits: Drive, Curiosity, and Resolve.

Drive – being highly motivated to do big things. This is a usually a mix of ambition and motivation. Ambition is selfish i.e. “I want to leave a mark.” Motivation is about accomplishing big, collective goals with the people around them. The right combination of these two traits make for a leader that is quite literally unstoppable.

Curiosity – the desire to learn, self-improve, and see things from different perspectives. This becomes very important in the current business environment where rapid and profound change is almost a given.

Resolve – the strength of character to push for difficult goals, and to come back from adversity.

Potential is the trait that will give your company the edge

To be sure, High Potentials are definitely harder to spot than High Performers. Finding them requires new and innovative search protocols, plus a more comprehensive look at each candidate’s individual characteristics. You have to look in more haystacks, and look closer. But in today’s environment, the companies that look for the right traits in their executive leadership talent will acquire the executive leaders who will shape the future.


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