How Do You Assess a Candidate’s Leadership Potential? April 3 2012

There’s an old saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. That idea holds true when you’re trying to assess a candidate’s leadership potential. You have to start with a clear picture of what leadership means to you and, more importantly, what it means in your organization.

Many organizations have leadership competency models that purport to describe the key characteristics and behaviors that they seek in their leaders. The problem with many of these models is that they are so full of jargon and clichés that they don’t provide much in the way of useful guidance.

Having looked at dozens of these models over the years, I can make it simple for you. Leadership behaviors fall into one of two broad categories – the behaviors that drive results and the behaviors that build relationships. Both categories are equally important for long-term success. The most successful leaders exhibit both in abundance.

Here are some questions in each of those two categories to keep in mind when assessing a candidate’s leadership potential:

Driving Results

  • How well does the candidate understand which results matter most and why they do?
  • How skilled is the candidate in establishing goals that lead to results?
  • What demonstrated experience does the candidate have in creating plans that achieve goals?
  • What is the candidate’s demonstrated capacity to operate in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world?
  • Bonus question: Do they operate as a lifelong learner?

Building Relationships

  • What is the candidate’s track record in connecting with a diverse range of people?
  • How good is the candidate at coaching others to higher levels of performance?
  • How likely is the candidate to collaborate with peers to create boundary spanning results?
  • How skilled is the candidate in influencing powerful people to adopt a preferred course of action?

If you agree that it all comes down to driving results and building relationships, what other questions would you add to assess a candidate’s leadership potential in either of those categories?

This post originally ran on the Monster Thinking blog.

2 Responses to “How Do You Assess a Candidate’s Leadership Potential?”

  1. Mike McD says:


    The next question in my mind is "what are the candidate's values and how does she live them"? "Does he act with integrity and authenticity"?

    These questions are important because candidates can build relationships and drive results. But are they short term results and shallow relationships?

    Does the candidate have long standing and deep friendships outside their family? Are they involved in a cause or group or hobby they enjoy and have contributed to over the years?

    I have noticed a qualitative difference among leaders who have a stable family life and long term friendships (some going back to elementary or high school) versus those who have been divorced multiple times and whose friendships are professional contacts. The former add more stability and direction to an organization while the latter tend to eventually disrupt the team order, play politics and fail to innovate.

    There are numerous examples of Leaders who produce short-term results but break the bank in the long run. So what types of activities has the candidate engaged in with enduring results? What and who have they stuck with throughout the years? These behaviors begin to get at what they value and how they live their espoused values.

  2. frankgebhardt says:

    I absolutely agree with exploring the values of the candidate and ensuring integrity.

    It is also important what type of leader I'm looking for. Is the team stale and need breaking out of their shell? That needs a different leader / leadership style then providing stability and continuous improvement.

    A second aspect is the risk culture. Are you a highly innovative organisation that doesn't shy away from trying something new and learn from mistakes? Or are you playing it safe and use proven concepts and processes?

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