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Traits your future leaders must have

You’ve come to a decision and you’re sure you’ve made the right choice.

That employee who always delivers her results on time, above expectations, with a fresh perspective – you’re going to make her team manager because you know she will be a “leader.”

A month goes by and she’s struggling. Projects are stagnating, there’s confusion among her direct reports and her usually upbeat attitude has now dissolved into a state of constant frustration.

What happened? She seemed perfect for the job – ambitious, detail-oriented, intellectual. Where did you go wrong? You were sure she showed leadership potential.

Successful execution isn’t everything

When you’re looking to promote employees from individual contributor to team manager, you’re probably seeking out your best performers, employees who always get the job done – early, better, smarter.

Yes, successful execution is important – it shows your employees can get the job done. But true leaders are never measured by what they’re able to produce on their own. Leaders are evaluated on their ability to evoke a following and achieve greater success as a team.

How to spot leadership potential

No one is born with all the skills of a talented leader. If that were the case, you’d easily spot them from a mile away. True leadership skills must be learned and practiced before they become second nature.

Generally, you’re not going to find experienced leaders hiding out among your individual contributors.

What you need to learn is how to spot the raw personality traits that can be most proficiently developed into the essential skills of true leaders.

Raw traits of future leaders

Picking future leaders runs deeper than simply identifying your top performers. When you’re on the hunt for that diamond in the rough, be sure to keep a look out for these key traits:

  • Empathy
  • Poise
  • Outgoing nature
  • Attention to detail
  • Ambition
  • Optimism

These characteristics can be good indicators of your employees’ future success in leadership roles.

The bad news? These are just the raw, inborn traits that potential leaders have, not those exhibited by leaders who are already successful at their craft.

The good news? These traits, plus the desire to learn and grow, mark the foundation for the skills that all true leaders must practice.

Over time and with the proper mentorship and experience, here’s how these traits can evolve into essential leadership skills.

1. From empathy to emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the “skill in perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions and feelings,” according to It is a highly significant trait in successful leaders as leadership is all about relatability. By understanding how others are motivated, leaders can adjust communication styles and approaches to better manage their teams.

In its raw form, emotional intelligence appears as empathy. Does your manager-to-be seem to care about her coworkers? Make it a point to watch her ability to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues and adjust her approach accordingly. The degree to which she is genuine in her responses will indicate her innate level of empathy.

2. From poise to confidence

Leaders can’t create a following if they don’t have confidence in themselves and their ideals. It’s impossible to convince employees that a new initiative will be exciting and profitable when underlying doubts are present.

Do you think Rudy Giuliani could have evoked such a strong feeling of brotherhood after 9/11 if he stuttered and shook at the podium? No way. It was his unfaltering assurance and determination to overcome that brought out New Yorkers’ true grit in the wake of such tragedy.

Look for poise now when picking future leaders. As they adapt to change and use their current skills to make decisions – and learn from them – their newly developed confidence will soon surface.

3. From outgoing nature to courage

Leaders are not leaders if they accept the current standard and go along with the mindset of the masses. True leaders take risks.

Did you know that, in 1921, Walt Disney went bankrupt? What if he had been too intimidated to try again?

Do your prospective managers speak up in meetings when they have new ideas or fresh perspectives?

Do they try new methods to succeed? And if they fail, do they try again?

Gathering the strength to speak up for what is best for the business, despite fear of failure, is where true leaders can make all the difference in their roles.

4. From attention to detail to focus

There needs to be a great deal of enduring focus set upon business goals and objectives. From company-wide projects to employees’ day-to-day job duties, these goals should always be top of mind for leaders.

For instance, take note of how a particular employee you’re considering for a management role approaches a new assignment. Does he take the time to research, ask questions, point out things that others may have overlooked? His attention to detail will be obvious when the project is completed with no unaddressed concerns left on the table.

With more time and experience, he will know how to apply this skill to the overall business, almost as if it were second nature. That’s when he’s developed focus.

5. From ambition to vision

Leaders are always planning for the future and have a vision, road map, game plan, of where the business needs to go. Without a defined direction, managers will have nowhere to lead the team.

This future leader you have in mind, does she just take assignments as they come and finish them status quo? Or does she grab them and turn them into something better than expected?

Does she trudge along and do what’s asked and nothing more? Or is she always looking for new opportunities to grow the business, try a fresh approach, start a novel project?

We all have slow days. It’s when it becomes a habit where you have to worry.

Employees who regularly express ambition to go above and beyond what’s asked of them and who show genuine interest in the company’s future are most likely to project the corporate vision as leaders.

But remember, ambition to succeed, and subsequently, fulfill a vision, must have substance. Research and credible blueprints are what generate buy-in from employees – not grandiose propositions filled with unsubstantiated ideas.

6. From optimism to voice

At the end of the day, no vision or motivation tactic is effective if it isn’t communicated in the proper voice.

An optimistic outlook fuels an infectious tone that motivates and inspires others. Skilled leaders develop a strategic verbal approach to represent all situations and have the ability to communicate the vision and goals of the company in an engaging, confident way.

For instance, if a leader is presenting her plan for getting the company out of a financial slump to employees, she must carefully manage her tone. She needs to avoid going too deep into the serious nature of the topic, while also uplifting spirits with hope for a promising future.

When respected leaders have something to say, employees listen. They take their leaders’ words and the way they say them to heart. Skilled leaders know this and take care to ensure their voices are aligned with the way they want their messages perceived.

Did you make the right choice?

At the end of the day, perhaps you were right in discovering leadership potential in the selected manager that isn’t working out yet. But take a step back and look at the full picture.

Maybe she just needs a little more direction from you or time to get to know each of her direct reports’ personalities. Make sure you’ve taken her raw traits into serious consideration and have given her the tools she needs to learn and grow.

Whether you’re a seasoned leader or new business owner, there’s always something new to learn about managing employees. For a few more pointers, download our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.