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How to spot future leaders within the business and ensure their success

By 19/01/2017April 9th, 2022Business

Future leaders rarely shout from the rooftops. In fact, they’re sometimes incredibly hard to spot.

While you might expect people with leadership ambitions to be the most prominent characters within the organisation, the opposite is normally true. Often, those with the most exciting potential don’t even realise they have it, nor do they aspire to climb towards the upper echelons of the corporate ladder.

While simply a fact of life, this is a shame, because with so many of us wrapped-up in our own day-to-day activities, such people often slip through the net completely unnoticed, either needlessly retaining the same position for the duration of their career or moving onto pastures new once boredom sets in.

Neither outcome is much of a result for the staff member or company at which they work. Latent leadership talent therefore needs to be proactively discovered, encouraged and developed if recruitment costs are to be kept under control and the most made of staff currently on the payroll.

No business should miss the opportunity to foster in-house leadership talent, but if it really is that quiet and seemingly hidden, how on earth do you go about finding it? Moreover, if the people in question are particularly reluctant to let their true talents shine through, how do you encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and show the company what they’re truly made of?

The good news is there’s a number of ways you can do this – and we’ve found all five of them.

Welcome to our ultimate guide for finding, fostering and encouraging the quiet leaders within your organisation.

1. Discover and move

If you’re conducting regular, modern performance development reviews (PDRs) and have a management team that is constantly on the lookout for latent talent, you have all the tools you need to discover potential future leaders.

Managers should be able to spot the telltale signs that someone within their team is capable of operating significantly beyond their current pay grade. Likewise, an employee who is consistently performing above and beyond their core responsibilities – as documented in their PDR – is probably made of much stronger stuff than their current role suggests.

Once you get a sniff of a future leader, move them out of their current role as quickly as possible. Find them a new challenge and drop them into it, instantly. A new department or project that requires management will be the perfect test to see if your suspicions about their true abilities are to be believed.

2. Be brutally honest

Anyone who has been successful at the helm of a business will tell you that the old adage of “it’s tough at the top” is utterly true. You have to be able to take and deflect fire from all sides; disgruntled customers, disenchanted staff and fellow managers who seem intent on unseating you are common challenges the best leaders become adept at dealing with.

If you suspect that someone is capable of leadership and you’ve decided to throw them into the proverbial frying pan as suggested in point 1, you need to be prepared to step it up a gear (or two) when it comes to feedback.

As we’ve already noted, leaders need very thick skins and if the feedback offered to those you suspect being capable of great things is turned up several notches, their reaction will be telling.

Do they wilt under brutal but fair feedback or rise to the challenge?

3. Get the opinion of other team members

You may not be the only person to have spotted a future leader among the ranks. The people within the team may also have noticed that one of their colleagues appears to be constantly forging way ahead of everyone else.

Unfortunately, few people will proactive point this out to the management. This is usually for one of two reasons: they either assume that doing so would be pointless or fear that the person in question may go on to climb a ladder they desperately want to climb themselves.

Indifference and jealousy really can get in the way of future leaders.

Either way, as the manager or HR leader, you need to be proactive yourself and speak to the team members in order to get their opinion on the potential future leader you’ve spotted. Their input will be invaluable, as they are the people with whom the person in question spends most of their time.

Be honest – tell them you think their colleague is capable of leadership success, but ask what their opinion is. Do it in confidence, and you should receive only the most honest feedback in return.

4. Make sure they fit, culturally

If you decide to recruit new leaders for the business externally, those who are successful in the interview process will have the added challenge of adapting to a new culture.

This isn’t easy, even for the most accomplished of leaders. While some will adapt quickly and flourish as a result, others will struggle to fit in, annoy those around them and, ultimately, alienate themselves from the rest of the team, leaving them with no choice but to move on from the role that you so badly need to be occupied.

Believe it or not, the same challenge can exist if you nurture leadership talent internally. Moving from a ’shop floor’ position to one of leadership is a seismic leap, and even if the person in question has been part of their previous team for a significant period of time, adapting to the management culture may prove very difficult.

Such people will either actively fight against the culture of the management team or effortlessly slot into it, and the only way you’ll ever find out if they can is to give them a chance. Just monitor their progress carefully!

5. Nurture and develop by investing in training

Leaders need training just as much as those below them, and constant development is an absolutely essential area of investment for those who have climbed the corporate ladder to reach the highest of perches.

Just because you’ve managed to find a leader in-house doesn’t mean the business can forgo any form of recruitment overhead. Remember, this person has absolutely zero leadership experience – they’re simply exhibiting signs that they could be a perfect fit for such a role.

Regular, relevant training is therefore a must, but it also pays to speak to industry influencers and other leaders within your sector who may be willing to lend their own experience and learnings by offering some form of mentoring.

Leadership development isn’t cheap, but it certainly shouldn’t be skimped on. Make it a primary entry in your training budget and ensure you give latent leadership the best chance to succeed.


If you work in HR or own a business and need a new leader, chances are you already have one; they’re already on the payroll, but nothing other than hard work will help bring them out of their shell. The advice in this post is therefore designed to help HR teams prevent potential future leaders already present within the four walls of the business from slipping through the net.

It’s the quiet ones you should look out for. Those who deliver, time and time again, who usually keep themselves to themselves and who seem entirely reluctant to take any form of praise or back-slapping.

Future leaders reside within every business. You just need to know how and where to look and exactly what to do with them once discovered. Happily, you now have all the advice you need to nurture those within your organisation!