Category Archives: Talent identification

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.

Scared to know? Get to know your real potential (AKA swallow some cement and harden up)

Do something that scares you.

I have read a lot of books about personal and career development. But one tip I like, is “do something that scares you every day”. No, I’m not advocating running across a highway or swallowing window cleaner (that would be cheating anyway because you can predict that would have to end badly). I’m sure you can name some things that you hold back on and just can’t or won’t do, perhaps you’ve been holding back for years.

Some common ones I’ve come across:

  • I really want to give some feedback to my boss about her behaviour
  • I REALLY want to tell my father that I actually don’t want to be a dentist (apologies to all the dentists, it’s a noble career! And just an example)
  • I should call that girl in the office and tell her how I feel
  • I really should quit my job and do something I’m ‘passionate’ about* (passion and what I think it means, why it can be important and why it’s not necessarily important at all is the subject of another post, stay tuned)

Why don’t we have the courage to just do it?

My guess is it’s generally because we are unsure of the outcome. She could say, “oh hi I’m so glad you called me, I would love to go out with you!” but she could also say “go away you weirdo” and avoid you, and tell everyone in the office that you asked her out. In short, you’ve made a judgement that the perceived risks are too high compared to the potential benefit.

Ok an extreme example. I’ll get to the point now. It’s about work. First a little bit of theory and an example.

In any organisation, work varies in complexity (by that I mean, the time horizon for different tasks varies, there are a different number of variables and those variables relate to one another differently over time) – and we all have a varying degree of capacity to deal with this complexity. (Re-read that paragraph if you like, it’s important to what comes next).

Say I joined a bank as a junior customer service officer. My focus in that role would be on resolving customer problems as they come to me on a daily basis. Let’s say I’m enjoying that and developing in the role over a few years, and I’m now put in charge of a team of junior customer service officers. We’re all doing valuable work (there’s no doubt, where would a bank be without people helping customers?) but as the manager of the team, I’m now thinking of a longer timeframe and more variables that impact on my own and the team’s performance. I may need to think about how to fill a roster over a 6 month period, how to resolve tricky customer problems that cross over into the work of few different teams and even who might be the next to fill my shoes.

This isn’t new stuff but lots of people won’t have heard of their work described in this way before.

My proposition is that (and I’m not alone), we all have different levels of ability and comfort with complexity. In my role as a junior customer service officer, I could have enjoyed dealing with the daily customer queries for a long period of time, but I might be starting to see the same thing over and over. I might be wondering what my manager does all day up there. I could even be wondering, do I have what it takes to be successful in another role if I do get promoted?

This is important, because what organisations should value a great deal more than they do, is the ability of people not only to understand complexity, but to make good judgments and act productively in relation to complexity. It’s not enough to just “get it”, we generally get paid in roles to make judgements on things and take action.

In short, organisations should take a lot of notice of who can make that transition successfully. Who can put the ability to understand complexity together with the ability to manage it well.

That’s why I’m not a huge fan of personality testing, values inventories and the like as the ONLY way to help someone with their career. And I don’t mean everyone should get an IQ test (don’t get me started!! Seriously, I’m warning you!!!)

Ok, so “do something that scares you”. I’m getting to that.

What if there was a way to get some really good insights into whether you could take that step up in your career. In other words, get a good reading on your very own leadership potential. Wouldn’t you like to know?

There’s good news and bad news. I always prefer bad news first so here goes.

  • Potential assessment can be a nerve-wracking and challenging process (like giving your manager negative feedback, like the few seconds as the phone rings before that girl in the office answers).
  • It brings out things about yourself that could be confronting.
  • There is no way to prepare (at least, in my view there shouldn’t be a way to prepare, apart from a good night’s sleep).
  • You could be disappointed.
  • You’ll need to pay some money to go through it.

Here’s the good news.

  • Potential assessment is nerve-wracking and challenging – that is a good thing. That means you will come out the other side a wiser person. I can assure you there won’t be any damage, however it will be a great development experience for you.
  • You will see new sides to yourself – and that will be confronting. That’s good because you’ll have almost no choice but to learn something.
  • You can’t prepare – so no study needed, just a few hours and a quiet spot.
  • It is also fun and inherently interesting.
  • It will give you some important insights when you do it, and it will get more and more important as you progress in your career (i.e. you can keep drawing on what you learnt about yourself throughout your whole career).

Ok you could be disappointed.

You might fancy yourself as CEO material. Someone could have said those exact words to you. “Sam, you’re CEO material”. Then some guy with a fancy technique does some test with you and then tells you that you don’t actually have CEO-level potential. Please don’t be offended, but if you do want to be a CEO, would you agree and glumly accept your fate if I gave you that news? I doubt it. It’s data. It’s not the meaning of life.

It may actually be the best thing that’s happened to you for a long time. So go eat some cement and harden up (please, not literally).

Australian Institute of Management presentation: How to Unlock the Leadership Potential of Future Leaders

We’re excited to be presenting at the Australian Institute of Management Open House on Monday 3 November! Please find the link to the event here.

Join Sam Robinson from Floreat Consulting Australia for a session on uncovering and developing leadership potential. Discover the importance of assessing the potential of younger employees and the value this creates for both organisations and individuals.

Gender and leadership potential

picIn 2013, less than 25 percent of new board appointments to ASX 200 boards were women.

Currently, 16.4% of directors in the ASX 200 are women.

How can that be?

This might sound funny coming from a man, but these statistics are astonishing. Can it really be explained away by women opting out of corporate life? What sort of system produces such a result?

I’ll give you our take. Firstly, none of these arguments stand up to scrutiny:

  • There are not enough decent female candidates.
  • Many women go and have babies, missing out on the years they could be climbing the corporate ladder.
  • Most women don’t want to or can’t go into those roles – they’re just not cut out for leadership. Ok – so you don’t hear that much anymore out loud. But I don’t think it is far from the surface for some people (but it is still complete rubbish).

If you’re a woman, do these views annoy you or the women you know? If you’re a man, this thinking might get under your skin too. Think about what it’s like to encounter this regularly and you’ll start to understand the problem.

The current situation cannot be explained by a lack of leadership potential: leadership potential is evenly spread among populations (we have research supporting this if you’re interested). And in the words of Betty Spence, President of the National Association of Female Executives:

“If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers and Sisters we probably wouldn’t have had our financial meltdown.”

The problem? The shared beliefs that are commonly held – expressed either implicitly or explicitly – (by men and women) that contribute to women not being able to convert their potential into capability.

There are subtle signs as well as obvious ones that point to the source of the problem. You could go round and round in circles trying to work out what they are and aren’t. We don’t think that is necessary. The vast majority of the most senior people making decisions in Australia are men. Collectively, we men have shared beliefs and that’s extremely powerful – we share beliefs and so form a culture.

We think there is one big change which can be made now:

Put in place a way to understand and develop leadership potential in a way that is objective and that short-circuits – as far as possible – those beliefs that inhibit the development of women as leaders.

Be brave and do that consistently. You will be rewarded.