Identifying and Developing Potential Leaders

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Identifying which employees might work well as project leaders can be simple when they step up to the plate and say, ‘I want to lead a project!’

Not only do they make their desire known at the outset of an opportunity, but they frequently have paved the way by pitching in without being asked, offering constructive feedback or suggesting improvements that could facilitate project teamwork or efficiency.

High-potential employees also might demonstrate particular aptitudes or skills that a good project manager would need, including good listening skills and the ability to speak persuasively.

Perhaps the high-potential employee is consistently organized, punctual, has a history of excellence or has caught important, potentially costly mistakes that others missed, or this person might demonstrate a sense of urgency to take on or complete challenging tasks.

High-potential employees generally set themselves apart in some way, and they tend to take a keen interest in developing themselves and stating they would like to take on more responsibility and/or grow within the organization.

Once high-potential leaders have been identified, development opportunities for this group can take many forms. There are straightforward learning opportunities such as e-learning, instructor-led training or certification classes to add, build or expand skills.

Stretch assignments, commonly called experiential learning opportunities, can expose high-potential employees to new departments and deepen their understanding of business operations and challenges, as well as IT’s role in the mix.

Stretch assignments are popular in high-potential leader development because they take high-potential employees out of their comfort zones, stretching them into unfamiliar territory to see how they react to change so senior leaders can observe their behavior under stress. They also potentially expose strengths or weaknesses that need to be addressed before candidates are given project-lead responsibilities.

Development activities also could include coaching or mentoring opportunities, in which more-experienced IT leaders pair with high-potential employees to work in a one-on-one, informal setting.

The opportunity to engage with a more experienced leader and hear firsthand what experiences or situations have helped shape their work and career (as well as receive targeted, private feedback) can help develop the more intangible leadership abilities such as people management skills while revealing other personality-based characteristics or flaws that might stand in the way of effective leadership once high-potential employees step into their new role.

Project management requires an understanding of multiple components: budgets, deadlines, project scope, time-to-market requirements, team member assessment, conflict resolution, etc.

Potential leaders who are capable of stepping into a project-lead role often shine amid their peers — they are true team players, open to or actively seeking development or continual learning opportunities, and they do more than what is required to complete projects on time and under budget without being asked and sometimes without thought to formal recognition.

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Kellye Whitney


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