Identifying Emerging Leaders

Silhouettes of male and female businesspeople walking awayWhen you leave it up to managers to select employees for professional development programs, there’s a lot of uncertainty involved.

It depends on the quality of those managers. Are they good managers, alert to their employees’ accomplishments, skills, and career ambitions? Or are they overwhelmed, frustrated, and perhaps with their own political ax to grind?

What inherent – or, let’s face it, overt – bias is involved? With the recent protests against police violence and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, I think all white people, myself included, have (hopefully) had to take a harder, longer look at how employees are hired, managed, and promoted.

Meanwhile, the individual employee has little control in the process, since it’s based on whether their manager recognizes and acknowledges their hard work, “likes” them, and wants to reward them… and how careful they are to educate themselves about overcoming bias.

And this means your so-called Emerging Leaders and Hi-Po Employees are maybe not the best in the company. Maybe there are excellent candidates for management and leadership that just aren’t being noticed, recognized, acknowledged, or sponsored.

How do you fix this?

Ask for applications. Create an open process where anyone who wants to qualify for a leadership program submits a formal application.

I suggest these criteria:

  • Compile a set of questions requiring knowledge and understanding of your industry and your company. The answers should be essays, not multiple choice, in order to demonstrate the applicant’s written communication, critical thinking, and logic skills. Be careful not to expect manager-level thinking; remember, the whole point here is to qualify them for management and leadership training!
  • Ask them why they want to be a manager and leader. What does it mean to them personally? This is not the tired old question “where do you want to be in five years?” It’s about their values and desires, beyond the increase in pay, to advance and be a true leader.
  • Require a memo of recommendation from their immediate supervisor, at least one peer, and one other manager within the company.
  • Consider blind submissions, if at all possible. We know, sadly, that certain identifying characteristics – name, gender, race, and so on – trigger bias, whether unconscious or overt.
  • Convene a panel to review and rank the applications. Make sure they have clear guidelines for accuracy and readability. Ask the panel to review each application individually, and then meet as a group to go over the top candidates. How many they ultimately accept is, obviously, dependent on how you design the training-and-support program – in-house, outsourced, time span, budget, and so on.

By conducting the selection process in this way, the candidates are more involved, more engaged, and more likely to fully participate in the training program.

And you’ll discover hidden gems in your employee population that might otherwise have gone unnoticed – and perhaps have simply gone, off to a company where their qualities and talents are appreciated and rewarded.

Obviously, this takes some time and effort.

But given the risks involved, and the potential reward, isn’t it worth it?


Yes, I can help with any aspect of this (of course). Curious? Think this might help? Let’s talk about how it works and explore whether it could be a fit. No worries if not; this is just an exploration. Contact me, or jump right to my calendar.

gljudson Career development