Identifying And Nurturing Leadership Potential

by | Jul 11, 2023 | Blog

Have you ever worked for a manager who was trying to act like something they weren’t? I have and WOW! is it hard to deal with. It was an already effective manager who got their hands on the hottest new ‘be a better leader’ self-help book. They made it their mission to re-fashion themself as the ‘better leader’ in the book. Honestly, it was painful to watch.

They were already effective in their role, leading from a place of predictability, constancy, and steadiness. They provided opportunities for everyone to share their opinions and slowly guided the team to complete team goals. They valued team members who followed a set structure and rules. Reporting to them, you knew what to expect.

Come Monday after what was probably a weekend leadership book binge-reading session, they flew into scheduled meetings like a whirlwind, spouting platitudes, firing off new visions for the future of the team, and delegating tasks like nobody’s business. It was painfully obvious to the entire team that a new sheriff was in town.

Now, there is a ton of value in those ‘be a better leader’ books, but it’s important to understand one major concept about leadership: You shouldn’t have to drastically change who you are to be an effective leader.

There’s a common misconception in some management circles that only certain kinds of people can be good leaders. Some people believe all leaders must be:

  • Decisive
  • Strong-willed
  • Demanding
  • Persuasive
  • Assertive
  • Outgoing

If you compare that list of characteristics to the DISC personality profile, you’ll see they all appear under the D and the I columns. This leads some people to think that to be a good leader you must change your behavior to make yourself into a higher D and higher I.

This strategy is flawed. You can actually lead from anywhere on the DISC chart. Check out these leadership characteristics:

  1. Calm and patient, able to stay organized and focused on tasks.
  2. Outgoing and enthusiastic, able to inspire and motivate others.
  3. Thoughtful and detail-oriented, able to see the big picture.
  4. Decisive and results-oriented, not afraid to step up and take on challenges.

All great leadership traits, aren’t they? Interestingly, they each correspond to 1 of the 4 DISC columns. Take a second and test your DISC knowledge. Can you match them up with their corresponding DISC column? Go ahead, I’ll wait. (insert Jeopardy music here 🎶)
How did you do? *You’ll find the answer key at the end of this article.

What I experienced with that former manager was a naturally high S (Stabilizing) who got it in their head they needed to be a high D (Decisive) to be a good leader. When they tried to change into someone they weren’t, it was obvious the strategy would fail. And eventually it did. Team productivity began to flag, meetings became unfocused, team members felt disillusioned, complaints made their way to HR, and the manager caved under the pressure and made a catastrophic error in judgment that cost them their job.

If only they would have continued to lead from where they were already effective!
Now I’m not saying there’s never room for improvement. The report you receive after taking a DISC assessment is stuffed with ideas on how you can further develop your strengths and work on your potential weaknesses. But note, never are you encouraged to drastically change who you are at your core.

Instead you are advised to lean into your strengths and lead from where you are.
This is the message you want to get across to those on your team you may have targeted for a future leadership role. While knowing their predominant DISC style can highlight their strengths and potential weaknesses, build on that knowledge by having conversations with them about the following:

  • Ambition. Do they have a strong desire to achieve success? Do they set challenging goals for themselves and others?
  • Vision. Do they have a clear vision for the future? Are they able to articulate their vision to others and inspire them to follow?
  • Communication skills. Are they able to communicate effectively with others? Are they able to clearly articulate their ideas and persuade others to follow their lead?
  • Decision-making skills. Are they able to make sound decisions under pressure? Are they able to weigh the pros and cons of different options and make the best decision for the team?
  • Problem-solving skills. Are they able to identify and solve problems? Are they able to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions?

These are just some of the qualities that can identify a leader-in-waiting. If you approach them and they are interested in leading in the future, provide them with opportunities to develop their skills. Give them feedback, mentor them, and be their coach cheering them on from the sidelines as they try, fail, and try again.

One final thing to remember… just because you identify leadership potential in someone, doesn’t mean they will want to take action on it. There are times when your top individual contributor wants to remain just that… your top individual contributor. If you force someone into a leadership position, you risk them falling into a trap similar to my former manager.

In those situations, nobody wins. But if you use the insights available to you in a DISC profile, combine that with some guidance and coaching, you are on the path to helping a future leader embrace their potential.

**answer key: 

  1. High S – Stabilizing: They are calm and patient, and they are able to stay organized and focused on tasks.
  2. High I – Interactive: They are outgoing and enthusiastic, and they are able to inspire and motivate others. 
  3. High C – Cautious: They are thoughtful and detail-oriented, and are able to see the big picture.
  4. High D – Decisive: They are decisive and results-oriented, and they are not afraid to step up and take on challenges.


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