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How to Find Hidden Leadership Talent in Your Organization

find hidden leadership talent

What would happen if one of your senior leaders stepped down tomorrow? Is your organization prepared to fill his or her shoes quickly and efficiently? Do you have qualified, knowledgeable leadership talent on your bench, ready to take the reins?

If this isn’t a concern for your organization now, it soon will be. Research suggests an average employee tenure of five years these days, regardless of age or position within an organization. Baby Boomers are ready for retirement and the next generation of Gen X and Millennial leaders are poised to take their place, but only if you know where to find them.

Uncovering hidden leadership talent is a challenge for every organization. The good news is, a recent study from performance management platform TINYpulse and Microsoft Workplace Analytics may have uncovered one factor that may help you find a solution.

A better way to find future leaders?

find hidden leadership talentThe study, as cited in a recent Harvard Business Review article, correlated recognition data from TINYpulse’s Cheers for Peers platform with individual communication and calendar behaviors over the same period of time.

The result? “The number of ‘cheers’ an employee received was highly correlated with high network influence. This means the group of people who received the most praise from colleagues acted as communication hubs for the entire organization and were central to work getting done.” Furthermore, high performing employees spent nearly four hours more per week collaborating internally rather than externally and had larger internal networks than their peers.

Simply stated, as people collaborated more with colleagues, they were recognized more by others at work. While not groundbreaking, this research does offer some unique insight for organizations that need to find potential leaders.

“TINYpulse research shows that peer recognition is a key way to identify potential leaders,” says TINYpulse Founder David Niu. “What this means is that it’s not just up to HR or C-Suite individuals to create growth and learning opportunities—potential leaders on the team take it upon themselves to initiate meeting others, interacting with different departments and teams, and collaborating across barriers.”

A person’s ability to figure things out proactively, rather than waiting to be “fed” (be that information, tasks, feedback or development opportunities) is indeed an indicator of a person’s potential to lead. Often, leaders don’t have a clear map of how to lead effectively and there’s nobody there to tell them what to do. Being able to make decisions with limited or dispersed information is critical to success. This takes a willingness and ability to be very proactive in developing informal networks.

What else needs to be considered?

Collaboration, communication, and influence are all leadership qualities, but you probably shouldn’t rely on one data source alone (like networks) to inform your leadership development efforts. There are tons of leadership competency models out there, and they generally fall into two large buckets: the ability to develop relationships and the ability to deliver performance. Here are a few other things you should consider when developing your leadership succession plan:

On the relationship side of the house:

  1. All flash or the real deal? An employee’s ability to network and promote themselves and their accomplishments, either consciously or unconsciously, is certainly one way to show an ability to influence others. But can they actually deliver? There are a lot of really good self-promoters out there who, at the end of the day, can’t really deliver on expectations. Identifying results-based success criteria can shed some light on this. This is not a “one or the other” decision, however. Current performance alone may not be a solid indicator of potential, so a hybrid approach can help mitigate the risks associated with these types of decisions.
  2. Organizational linchpin or foreman of the rumor mill? An expansive network is wonderful, and certainly a key enabler for effective leaders in today’s rapidly changing world of leading knowledge workers. But what, specifically, are people going to this person for? Are they going to this person continually because they are a valuable resource in helping people get work accomplished? Or are they going to this person because they are the hub of the rumor mill?

On the performance side of the house:

  1. Stand and deliver. Developing relationships is critical in order to influence others (read: to lead) but driving performance and change is also an essential element to success. A person’s ability to show that they are able to deliver in roles of increased responsibility is key.
  2. Making the tough decisions. This can sometimes become a dynamic tension between peer relationships and leadership, as leaders are charged to create change. This change requires continuous assessment and, in some cases, the ability to make tough decisions in complex situations that will, undoubtedly, leave some stakeholders not feeling the love.
  3. Ability to learn. The ability to learn goes well beyond the ability to learn the technical skills required to do a job. Leaders must be ready and able to shed old behaviors that may have led to success in the past, but will no longer serve them well in a new role.

These new findings help introduce another way for employers to examine and potentially identify the hidden leadership talent within their ranks. But it doesn’t represent a silver bullet approach. The opportunity that tools like TINYpulse can offer employers is another string in their bow of leadership potential identification by helping to develop a more robust picture of the networks within their organizations.

For now, additional research in this area of formal and informal networks will help clarify our understanding of how these dynamics affect organizational performance and how they may serve as a component in the identification of leadership potential.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.