Selecting Future Leaders: 4 Essential Characteristics To Look For

— February 20, 2019

Selecting Future Leaders: 4 Essential Characteristics To Look For

In our experience, successful leaders tend to share many of the same characteristics. They possess superior communication and organizational skills, confidence, and an ability to delegate. These strengths are vital to achieving consistent results, but truly transformative leaders have abilities in a few other critical areas.

The challenge for organizations is to recognize these characteristics in a candidate pool. Although only about one-in-seven high-performing employees are also high-potential leaders, companies must find ways to identify and develop them if they want to maintain a strong succession pipeline for the future.

And make no mistake, finding these leaders matters. Companies with top-tier leadership teams routinely outperform their competitors in terms of innovation, flexibility, and employee engagement. A competency validation study OnPoint Consulting conducted with the American Management Association revealed four characteristics that differentiate highly-effective leaders:

  • Initiative
  • Collaborative Mindset
  • Ability to Build Trust and Foster Accountability
  • Critical Thinking

From an assessment and selection standpoint, these characteristics should be built into an organization’s screening process to distinguish between a good leadership candidate and a great one.

4 Essential Leadership Characteristics


Regardless of workload or pressure, highly-effective leaders have the tenacity to see tasks through from start to finish. While others may wait until they have all the information to make a decision, the most successful leaders recognize when it is appropriate to act. They trust that they’re making the best decision based on the data available.

Leaders with initiative do not procrastinate, instead approaching all matters with an appropriate degree of urgency. They are capable of thinking on their feet and proactively take steps to resolve issues before they snowball into larger problems.

Collaborative Mindset

Highly-effective leaders also possess the ability to build collaborative teams that are capable of successfully executing strategies to meet goals. By empowering employees and involving them in decision-making and strategy development, these leaders can inspire greater trust, loyalty, and buy-in from their teams.

Highly-effective leaders also understand the importance of relationship development. They encourage relationship building between employees to bolster trust, collaboration, and information sharing. These efforts help to break down silo mentalities, establishing shared goals and ensuring that people work together to achieve shared goals.

Ability to Build Trust and Foster Accountability

Highly-effective leaders wield influence by earning the trust of their team. They hold themselves accountable for the performance of their team and set an example for employees to follow. If they make a promise, they keep it. If they drop the ball, they don’t blame others or make excuses, instead focusing on getting things back on track and preventing the situation from happening again.

Responsibility and honesty are integral to everything these leaders do. This not only sets a standard for what is expected of others, but also makes it easier to hold employees accountable for their own performance.

Critical Thinking

Highly-effective leaders are superior critical and analytical thinkers. Rather than making assumptions about what they think they know, they ask questions to make sure they understand the issues at hand. They use sound reasoning skills to avoid biases and systematically resolve problems, greatly reducing wasted time, energy, and, more importantly, decreasing the risk of making a problem worse by making poorly informed decisions.

These individuals are excellent learners, capable of interpreting and communicating complex topics with ease. They’re able to make keen observations and spot themes or patterns others may miss. Their ability to understand how complex organizations operate allows them to anticipate the consequences of any significant changes or operational decisions.

Although these four characteristics aren’t the only abilities to assess when selecting future leaders, they should be built into any assessment process. Employees with these characteristics are more likely to be motivated by the “right” reasons, or a desire to help the organization and their teams achieve their objectives. They are not ego-driven candidates who are out primarily for themselves and end up creating toxic work environments characterized by low morale, high turnover, and poor collaboration.

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Author: Darleen DeRosa

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