There are a lot of ways to work your way up to management. And while assessments and psychological profiling are common tools used to identify and place potential leaders, informal observations can also be an indicator of leadership potential. A 2016 study by peer-recognition app TINYpulse and Microsoft Workplace Analytics tracked positive feedback given through the app for six months. They found that employees who had the most positive feedback typically also had the most influence and were productivity drivers. They had larger networks and spent more time collaborating with others than their peers.
As soft skills like social intelligence, communication, and empathy are increasingly valued in the workplace, that peer interaction—both formal and informal—is increasingly important, says Warren Wright, founder of the coaching firm Coaching Millennials. And whether you’re chatting about a high-stakes meeting or heading out for happy hour after casual Friday, your coworkers and managers are judging you, and that could affect your management potential.
“They may be looking at how these aspiring managers handle difficult situations. Do they crash and burn under pressure?” Wright says. “Those are the little clues that people are looking for more now than before in terms of what it takes to be a leader.” And those informal evaluations include four key areas.
Can they trust you?
To be a good leader, you need to be trustworthy, says Stacey Philpot, a human capital principal at management consulting firm Deloitte’s Philadelphia office. And often, informal interactions are an important part of building trust. How you interact with others and build the sense that they can rely on you is a critical component of how they feel about you. Ask yourself how you can foster credibility, reliability, and intimacy through these informal interactions rather than being too self-oriented, she says.
“In everyday interactions, what I would be saying to that young professional is, ‘Be conscious of whether you show up as credible and reliable, but also equally engaged in the interests of the other person that you’re interacting with,'” she says.
Do you show potential?
Measuring leadership potential can be tricky. But Deloitte research has found that people who have certain traits will become leaders faster, Philpot says. “Potential tends to be things like intellectual potential, change potential, people potential, and motivation or drive potential. In plain English, what that means is people who are smart, good with people, driven, and adaptable to change are more likely to become a leader faster than people who are low on those attributes,” she adds.
Philpot says that when executives describe a leader, they often use terms like: smart, good with people, driven, and adaptable. But that’s only half the story. She advises them to think about:
- Can this person set a direction?
- Does the person have good business judgment?
- Is the person able to influence others?
Are you “for real?”
For people to be able to trust you and believe in your leadership potential, they must feel as though you’re being authentic, says Houston-based management consultant Brad Deutser, author of Leading Clarity: The Breakthrough Strategy to Unleash People, Profit, and Performance. When people masquerade as something they’re not, others see right through that, he says.
“More and more people are looking for people who are real. They do not apologize for that. They’re respectful of other people, but they are who they are. And if we know what’s real in today’s environment, it makes it so much easier to have a relationship,” he says.
How do you handle conflict?
One big way people form opinions about you is in observing how you react to conflict, says Natalie Michael, CEO of Waterfront Partners, Inc., a West Vancouver, British Columbia-based executive coaching firm and author of Your CEO Succession Playbook. “To what extent can you express your point of view, even in the face of opposition?” she says.
When you take on a leadership role, you’re going to need to be able to withstand criticism or opposing views without getting upset. “So, your ability to withstand opposition and criticism, sometimes even in a very public domain of social media, and to maintain a healthy perspective around that and emotional composition [will be part of how people form opinions about your leadership potential],” she says. Managing your informal interactions well when you’re not in agreement with your peers can go a long way toward helping them respect you as a leader.