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What is "Determining Leadership Potential?"



We have a leadership crisis that is fueled by a rampant situation of putting poor leaders into roles that wreak havoc in organizations. We must fix this to help businesses be better but also create a better employee experience. The “Great Resignation,” as it is being called, has shown us that employees now know they have more choice in where and how they work.

Add to that fact, every survey about why people leave organizations has consistently listed the number one reason as the relationship with their manager.

This is a fatal flaw for organizations that tips over into society and is controllable. Where do we start? At the beginning!


We need to do a much better job at Determining Leadership Potential. This is like design or decorating or fashion. Just because we picked a pillow, most people feel like they can decorate and design. Or just because we see clothing and can buy it, we all feel that we can dress well. Having seen many outfits around the world, we all know that there are some people who just shouldn’t be responsible for dressing themselves. The “what were you thinking!?” question is a common refrain! The same is true for managers and leaders. Not everyone should be one, but because we are one or because we have had one, we feel empowered in making decisions about how to pick one. We need to change our approach and rely more on the science and the experts to help inform our decisions in this crucial area.


Our Research


I’ve recently completed three research studies on this topic. The first was a deep dive case study looking at a number of companies in the real estate industry. In the course of the study, we interviewed leaders at four different levels in each organization, including the CEO. Those results were very enlightening to showcase the tremendous amount of variation that exists in the tools, definition, and criteria people use in determining leadership potential (DLP). The second study was a quantitative assessment on the same subject. With nearly 600 participants from across the globe, we were able to conduct extensive statistical analysis to detect patterns. Again, the amount of variation that exists makes it clear why there are such poor results! The third study came about because in the first study, when I compared CEOs to the other participants in their own company as compared to when I viewed their responses against other CEOs, they were more similar to the other CEOs than the leaders in their own company! Thus, this third study was interviews with more than 50 CEOs from around the world on this topic. Great insights came from this study as well!


So, where do we start on this journey? Let’s start with what we mean by Determining Leadership Potential (DLP).



The Kim Janson definition


This definition is based on 30 years of experience working at the most senior levels of major organizations, working in 40+ countries, working with 300+ companies, extensive research including a PhD in Business and Leadership is as follows:


“Determining Leadership Potential is the process designed to identify vital characteristics, ideally earlier in a person’s career, that indicate their likelihood of possessing the necessary components to be successful as a future leader. The process should utilize tools and assessments to help complement and validate observations. A key area of focus is on an individual’s intellectual level, as intelligence is fixed, and things become more complex as one moves up in the organization. Knowledge and intelligence are often confused in this process. We are born with intelligence and then acquire knowledge. Another focus should be on personality, as it is also largely fixed. This work is about seeking to ensure individuals don’t have significant leadership derailers (ex. extreme self-focus, constant negativity/pessimism, etc.) Learning agility and motivation (hire people with their own engines!) are necessary conditions for people to be strong leaders in the future. Leadership skills such as delegating, inspiring, and strategizing and functional skills and expertise are teachable, so they are not necessary conditions of determining potential. Performance is often used as an indicator of potential but should not be. Performance should be a ticket to enter the conversation, but performance is not an indicator of potential unless the role is similar. Tremendous performance should be used as a springboard to further exploration and understanding of whether that talent has the proven factors that more reliably predict potential.”


There is a lot to unpack there. Over time, we will unpack this in a series of blogs. It will be unpacked in a significant way with the release of a book by this title: Determining Leadership Potential: Powerful Insights to Winning at the Talent Game. The book, being published by Routledge Publishing, will be released for presale at the beginning of the year. Ahead of that, check back here for more insights on this critical topic!

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