How to assess leadership potential on the cheap

strawberryYes, I know. I’m not the greatest businessman – I’m giving away something for free that Floreat charges money for. Fear not though, I haven’t completely lost it. This is not THE secret sauce (to be fair, I couldn’t give out the recipe in a post even if I tried – it takes years of practice and reflection to be a profiler) but it does amount to some helpful ideas on how to get a handle on an individual’s potential.

*This should NOT be used as a definitive guide and methodology used to make decisions about someone’s future. (For that you will definitely need the special sauce).

The following are some ground rules that I find helpful to have in mind in order to keep my own thinking fresh and useful for the people I help.


Leadership potential is not about “professionalism”. I mentally vomit every time I hear that word. Being “professional” is a means-nothing word, and often a values-laden and confusing term that serves to divide people of different cultural groups. When I profile someone, I don’t care about the bells and whistles – how they’re dressed, how well they do small talk, who they’re friends with. Potential can be found in the most unlikely places (and we have!) – the well-educated and wealthy, non-educated and poor. It doesn’t matter and there is no correlation. Forget professionalism.


It IS about language – not in the sense of breadth of vocabulary – but in the sense that the way someone uses language, in the right setting, is a window into how they think about things. DANGER! This doesn’t mean you get points for talking about a great “strategy”, how you are addressing “stakeholder interests”, how something might be “ubiquitous”, whether someone works “in that space” (shudder….uurgghhh). It is about being able to come up with new ideas and the ability to link those ideas together in new and interesting ways with other interrelated ideas.

Thinking > Action

Potential is not just thinking about things. What is really interesting (and part of why I do this work) is that the potential we assess is the ability to think, plan and do. It’s about being able to analyse a situation, come up with some creative solutions, make a plan, implement it effectively, adapt it if need be (and it will nearly always need to change) when the situation changes, learn from all that and then repeat it again. And of course the drive to keep going despite adversity and see it succeed.


It’s also all about balance. Have you ever met someone who is amazing at thinking about things but can never quite bring themselves to do anything with it? Ever? That’s a sign that the person favours what we call “pure thinking” over “applied thinking”. An excellent and fine quality to have if you are in an analytical, advice-giving role. Not so great for a project manager. Those people who are able to balance the thinking and doing aspects – and do that at a level of complexity that matches their work (number and type of variables as well as ambiguity into time and space) – are more likely to be successful leaders.

How complex can you get? Very complex. Special sauce complex.