Category Archives: Profiling

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.

“Professionalism”

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.

Language

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.

Balance

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.

The part of my job I seriously LOVE – writing Talentfinder cases from scratch

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I guess it’s the part of me that longs to be a writer, tapping on a typewriter, holed up in a log cabin somewhere with snow outside, a wood fire inside and just my deep thoughts to keep me company. (The reality is a bit different – I spent most of a recent train trip trying to ignore broken air conditioning and screaming kids while writing parts of my last case!)

So what is a Talentfinder case?

At Floreat, one of the key ways we help people is through individual potential profiling using a scenario-based technique called Talentfinder. Essentially we give someone a written scenario and ask for responses about what that person sees in the scenario, and then in a role play, we ask about what action they would take to address certain challenges that are presented. This is all done in a one-on-one conversation. We have lots of scenarios covering many different industry sectors and challenges a person could expect working in an organisation – Floreat has been doing this for over 20 years so there is a substantial library we can draw on. And we are constantly looking for new ways to support and challenge our clients and so are always in need of more scenarios.

A typical scenario might involve a candidate as a general manager of a car manufacturer. At first the scenario could involve having to deal with faulty parts from a supplier. As things get more complex, you may have to deal with problems in a whole product line and then even further along, you might be asked to re-design the whole direction of the business. A mini-scenario we’ve published about a venture capital business in the mining sector is here.

I love writing Talentfinder cases for a couple of different reasons:

  • It helps me connect with the people who actually go through a Talentfinder profile – writing a scenario is not just about coming up with a realistic-sounding story. We are looking for indications of how someone thinks and acts – and to do this, we need to provide opportunities to shine, while not leading people to certain answers. So the writing process is definitely one of…if this was me being profiled, how might I react? Am I prescribing anything or am I opening up creative opportunities? Is there too much of my thinking in this? Does it give someone who thinks completely differently, a genuine opportunity to do well?
  • It constantly reminds me that there is no one way. We are all different and think differently about the same set of facts. But there are some things that work better than others and what is really important – besides thinking well about things – is making decisions, and taking responsibility for the outcome of your decision.

But most of all, I’ve discovered that writing cases is a bit like leadership itself. You need to give others enough direction to succeed, but not too much so there is no room to think. You also need a dignified way to allow stepping back and re-grouping if the work gets too tough. There will always be lots of ‘right’ ways – and plenty of dead ends. The trick in developing good leaders is to understand the fundamentals of good thinking and productive action and how to spot them.

If you’re a leader, we recommend that you look for that ability, support it and facilitate it. Come to think of it, there are plenty of ‘right’ ways to do that too!