In 2014, the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flager Business School, in partnership with Human Capital Institute (HCI), conducted a study where they found that 85 percent of global companies report an urgent need to develop employees with leadership potential. The same study said that only 40 percent believe their current pool of high-potentials can meet their future business needs, and just 21 percent from the study indicated they are happy with the bench strength of their high-potential leaders.

Let's all now collectively wake-up and smell the proverbial coffee.

We have a leadership shortage folks. As more boomers retire in the next decade, and Millennials take over as the largest working generation, today's companies just aren't prepared ahead for developing tomorrow's leaders. 

The UNC/HCI study is helpful in giving us clear identifiers such as strategic thinking, drive for results, building effective teams, and change leadership as obvious hallmarks of future leaders.

I'm going to take a different, and more human approach to showcasing, what I have observed over the course of 25 years, some of the best servant leadership behaviors you should be looking for when identifying and developing your high-potentials.

These five servant leadership behaviors ultimately lead to high performance in followers, great organizational cultures, and profitability long-term:

1. They Have Superhero-Like Listening Skills.

Effective communication isn't just about talking; leaders who master the art of listening authentically will have uncanny, X-Men-like ability to listen intuitively to the other person's story, asking questions, and searching conversations for depth, meaning and understanding with their needs in mind. As you identify your high-potentials for leadership roles, the ones who will really get their tribes to respond and engage at a high level will listen with this modus operandi: how can I help my follower to be the best person and employee he/she can be?

2. They Trust And Believe In The People That They Lead.

In his phenomenal book The Speed Of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey says that a team with high trust will produce results faster and at lower cost. But should you first earn the trust of your people? Or does trust develop from having a belief in your people first -- their strengths, abilities, and commitment?

In other words, which of these two statements would you agree with?

A. Trust is something that people must earn.

B. Trust is something that should be given as a gift.

If you chose A, you're in the majority. Conventional thinking says that people have to earn trust first, and if they violate that trust, it becomes difficult to earn it back, right? But if you selected B, pat yourself on the back. It has been found that, in healthy organizations, leaders are willing to give trust to their followers first, and they give it as a gift even before it's earned.

3. They Are Good Coaches (And Believe in the Power of Coaching).

Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen, documents that company's incredible financial turnaround in her recent book, Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others.

She describes how she created a culture expressed in the six principles of how they work together: passion, listening, planning, coaching, accountability and humility.

Coaching is a leadership competency, Bachelder says, that they want to be best in class about. She develops her leaders to be coaches. People, especially millennials, want to gravitate to leaders who will coach them to success.

4. They See and Promote the Big Picture.

In the traditional top-down leadership world, bosses at the top of the food chain will cast a vision, then use their power and control to move people to carry out the vision. In today's social economy, your high-potentials should be servant leaders who will cast a company vision and enroll their followers to express their voice as co-creators and co-contributors to the vision.

5. They Are Resilient.

Resilience is found only after you can accept failure and try it again....a different way. Thomas Edison once said, "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

Resilience should be a measurable trait, so look for a mindset that will always explore and self-diagnose why the same issues keep coming up over and over.

Finally, if you know you have high-potentials who will make exceptional leaders, they may not know it themselves, so don't thwart their development! Help them become more self-aware of their unique skills, and bring out their strengths and talents so they can accelerate their own development.

What leadership behaviors do you feel are important in your high-potentials? Please share in the comments section below as we learn from each other.

Published on: Feb 16, 2016
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