The UK labour market has experienced a decline in job vacancies after a surge following the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, there are still over a million job openings, which the British Chambers of Commerce believes is detrimental to the economy as it hinders firms from meeting their order demands and taking on new projects.
According to a recent survey conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce, four-fifths of companies are struggling to recruit the necessary workforce. While organizations often seek external candidates for senior positions, they tend to overlook the potential of current employees to move up within the company, even if these employees are unaware of their own capabilities.
This oversight frequently occurs when management opts for a safe approach rather than taking a risk by assigning important tasks to their existing staff. Consequently, untapped employee potential remains unexplored, leading to feelings of underutilization and frustration. To fulfill their potential at work, individuals need to be provided with opportunities to expand their skills, learn, and develop.
Human resource managers leverage an employee’s potential, particularly their leadership potential, to identify individuals who could become future leaders within their organizations. In both the business world and academic research, the term “high potential” typically refers to individuals who have the ability to progress and develop faster than others in similar circumstances.
Leadership potential entails having the capacity to be an effective leader in the future, although support may be necessary to develop the appropriate skills and gain relevant experience for success. The question then arises: how can individuals assess their own leadership potential? Research has identified three main traits that are crucial in this regard:
- Growth: Learning and Motivation
Numerous studies emphasize the significance of the ability to learn when predicting future leadership effectiveness. This encompasses a willingness to learn, the ability to derive valuable lessons from various experiences, and the adaptability to apply these lessons to enhance future performance.
This explains why some individuals learn more and develop faster than others. Additionally, there is a motivational aspect that includes drive and perseverance to achieve results, as well as the ambition to lead.
- Foundational: Cognitive and Personality Characteristics
Research indicates that individuals who exhibit emotional balance, sociability, ambition, conscientiousness, and curiosity are more likely to become leaders. Furthermore, cognitive capabilities are essential, particularly the ability to make effective decisions in complex and ambiguous situations. Strong judgment skills and the capacity to gather and evaluate information from diverse sources are typically part of this cognitive acumen.
- Career: Qualities Specific to Future Roles
Certain models of potential include “career dimensions,” which refer to specific skills required for future roles. In the context of leadership potential, these qualities might encompass strategic thinking and collaboration.
Workplace trends and technological advancements are among the factors that are reshaping the nature of work. Consequently, the demands of future roles, along with the career-specific qualities necessary for excelling in them, may differ significantly from those of individuals’ current jobs. In fact, research indicates that over 70% of today’s top performers lack the essential qualities needed for success in their future roles.
How Can Individuals Develop These Qualities?
As rapid changes render knowledge and skills quickly outdated, the ability to learn is increasingly vital for future leaders. Instead of claiming to have all the answers, individuals must possess the capability to find or discover answers. This requires leaders to have the humility to acknowledge that they do not possess all knowledge and the interpersonal skills to listen openly and learn from a diverse network of people.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, demonstrated this approach. Despite not having all the answers, she utilized her platform to actively seek information. Ardern conducted a series of video interviews
with various experts, including psychologists and experienced business mentors, to obtain key insights on coping with the pandemic’s challenges and supporting small businesses.
Having actively sought information, listened attentively, and gathered diverse perspectives, leaders must then employ strong judgment and problem-solving skills to determine the best course of action, even in the absence of a clear path. This relies not only on cognitive abilities but also on learnable skills.
Challenges in Identifying Potential
Unfortunately, organizations often rely on an individual’s current or past performance as a measure of their potential, which is far from ideal. This approach not only fails to recognize that only a small proportion of current high performers possess high potential but also overlooks individuals with untapped potential who may not be performing at their best. They may be in the wrong role or lack the necessary support and opportunities for growth.
Conflating current performance with potential can perpetuate the lack of diversity observed in leadership positions across many firms. Past performance is influenced by opportunities, and some individuals, due to biases and stereotypes, may not have been given a chance to showcase their capabilities.
Addressing the Issue
To overcome these challenges, organizations must objectively assess their employees to identify those with leadership potential. This could involve conducting psychometric tests to evaluate personality traits, cognitive abilities, and learning aptitude. Simulations of typical tasks or problems could also be utilized to replicate the cognitive demands associated with future leadership roles, effectively identifying individuals who are best equipped to handle such responsibilities and continue learning from the experience.
Supporting Future Leaders
It is crucial to remember that potential does not automatically translate into success once identified. In fact, studies suggest that 40% of high-potential promotions end in failure.
However, if individuals possess the ability to learn from their experiences and apply those lessons to improve their approach, along with a strong motivation to progress and grow, they have a greater likelihood of developing the career-specific qualities required to become future leaders—often at an accelerated pace compared to their peers.
Organizations play a vital role in supporting the development of future leaders. They must find ways to challenge and stretch employees while providing the necessary support and scaffolding for their learning and growth. Balancing the provision of challenging opportunities with coaching and mentorship helps employees extract maximum value from their experiences. By leveraging these experiences, individuals aspiring to become future leaders can enhance their job performance and reach their full potential.
In conclusion, the UK labour market has seen a decline in job vacancies but still faces the challenge of over a million unfilled positions, which hampers economic growth. Recognizing and developing leadership potential within current employees is crucial for organizations. Assessing potential objectively, focusing on traits like growth, foundational qualities, and career-specific skills, can help identify future leaders. Moreover, organizations must provide opportunities for growth, support learning and development, and avoid conflating current performance with potential. By doing so, individuals can unlock their leadership potential, contribute to their organizations’ success, and drive long-term growth in the UK labour market.