As a kid I looked forward to summer because it meant no school. As an adult I look forward to summer because it means I get to surf. There is nothing I enjoy doing more than being on my board in the ocean.
Let me own up front that I am still very much a novice! One of the unteachable qualities of great surfers is their ability to spot a good wave. While this is something I am still learning, there are moments when I can feel a strong wave swelling. It is difficult to explain how you know the right wave is coming. There is something different about how the water feels, the way it pulls underneath you, that lets you know your next solid ride is about to happen. Identifying waves is a learned art.
Similarly, identifying emerging leaders is a learned practice. Part of my job is to spot potential leaders. While anyone can lead in some capacity, I believe there are qualities some individuals have that set them apart from the pack. You are probably in a position like myself or perhaps you find yourself in a place where you want to be discovered. Either way, you need to know what sets potential leaders apart from the status quo. Personally, I think there are a handful of qualities that serve as lenses to peer through when searching for emerging leaders.
Here are the baseline qualities I look for in a potential leader.
Do they have PASSION?
I need someone who seems to have a heart that beats with a vision for something better. If a person is lethargic, I don't need them. One question I ask myself of a potential leader is, "What kind of boundaries do I have to set up for this individual?" Are they working too much or not enough? If I have to be strict on them because they are showing up late and leaving early, I question their passion. If I have someone who does not seem to have enough hours in the day, well I can handle that kind of work ethic.
Passion is one way someone earns the right to lead.
Passionate people are self-developers, they seek out resources. With great leaders this is innate. In a younger leaders, I am ok with them being a little immature and unbalanced due to passion. In more seasoned leaders, I look for passion with balance. Life experience should have taught them how to process what drives them. Either way, they should both have a fire in their belly.
Can they PERFORM?
Simply put: Can they get stuff done? Do they execute details well? Are things done on time and with excellence? Do they work hard? Are they afraid to get their hands dirty? Do they do what they say they will do? At higher levels they may have others on their team handling a lot of details, but they need to be very concerned with them. Of these leaders I also ask, "Can they get stuff done through others?" If not, they will eventually be a bottleneck for growth.
For those who lead in the ministry space like I do, here is a little extra. I love to have people on my team who have past "non-church" leadership experience. I want some people who have led in some arena where there was "no grace." Captain of a team, band leader, sorority president... something that was a more secular leadership role. Why? Because sometimes we have too much grace in church leadership. I want a proven person, not someone who is just a "good guy" that was given a pass because no one wants to tell them they really are not that good.
How do they PRESENT themselves?
Presentation is a deal. Before you tell me it is not, ask yourself who you will follow easier, the person who looks well-kept and together or the person who looks like they just rolled out of the bed? People are hesitant to follow leaders who look like they cannot lead themselves. Culturally we are a little more relaxed than generations past in terms of outward appearance, but a good leader elevates themselves above the culture.
Body language is a tell here. I watch to see if a person appears "engaged” with things they are not in charge of. Body language and voice tone help determine this. Does this person slump in their seat? Are they distracted by texts and phone calls when they should be engaged? Do they speak sheepishly or with confidence? Do they slump over when they hear something they don't like? Do they pout if they do not get their way? Do they smile? Or do you have to wait for their first words to figure out if they are in a good or bad mood? Does the look on their face make you ask, "I wonder if they are ok?"
What are their PEOPLE SKILLS?
In his book, Relational Intelligence, Steve Saccone says leaders can "expand their influence by being relationally smart". This can be developed, but in leaders who are full of potential, it is a raw, intrinsic quality. What is their relational and social IQ? If you drop them in a room knowing no one, will they become a wallflower or begin to meet people? They do not have to be the life of the party but they do have to know how to connect. How do they engage with people?
Do they make others feel better about themselves? John Maxwell says we do this by putting a "10" on people's heads. Great leaders can even discipline someone and that individual will leave feeling better about their future. Simply being present with people sets leaders apart. Do they have a "teamwork" or "me-centric" attitude? I don't need a rock star or a drama queen.
Those are the foundational qualities I look for in a potential leader. If they are missing key elements mentioned above, I do not invest my time in them. If you are wanting people to notice you today, focus on being the embodiment of those factors.