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A leader’s role isn’t just to get things done in the present, it is also to ensure that an organization remains viable well into the future. Recognizing and nurturing talent isn’t a luxury, it’s a strategic imperative. Which makes it critical to plan for succession. The good news is that you can accomplish two things at once. If you identify and build on the potential in your people, you will not only drive your organization toward future success, but you will also foster individual growth, motivation and productivity in your people right now.

In order to recognize and nurture talent in others, it is important to first understand the concept of professional potential. Potential, in a professional context, is more than just current skills and experience. It goes beyond to include a range of characteristics such as adaptability, continuous learning, resilience and goal orientation. Identifying these attributes requires both deliberate action and a thoughtful approach on the part of leaders. Effective communication and regular feedback play a pivotal role, as does creating an environment in which employees can showcase their strengths and talents.

Here are 10 key indicators of professional potential that point to the leaders of tomorrow:

  • Adaptability and flexibility: Individuals who can be flexible in their approach, as well as adeptly adjust to change.
  • Curiosity and a continuous desire to learn: Those who are genuinely inquisitive, ask insightful questions and demonstrate a willingness to understand and grow.
  • An ability to inspire and motivate their peers: Employees who influence positive attitude and action by modelling constructive behaviour and setting an example for others.
  • Proficiency in critical thinking and problem-solving: Those who approach issues and challenges with a sharp, analytical mind and contribute to innovative solutions.
  • Proactivity and initiative: Team members who identify possible problems, step up to contribute and regularly go above and beyond their defined roles.
  • Collaborative and team-oriented: Staff who encourage team dialogue, making others feel psychologically safe, and extending a helping hand when necessary.
  • Resilience and tenacity: Those who thrive in high-pressure situations, deal well with change and demonstrate tenacity in pursuing goals.
  • Goal-focused and results-driven: Employees who maintain a focus on goals, consistently deliver results and remain accountable and reliable.
  • Above-average communication skills: Individuals who can not only express themselves clearly, but also listen actively, accept feedback graciously and promote a positive communication environment.
  • Big-picture strategic thinking capability: Staff who demonstrate a forward-thinking mindset and can identify and respond to the long-term impact of their decisions and actions.

As important as it is to recognize potential in your people, on its own, it is worthless if you do nothing to cultivate and develop it. Adapting your leadership style to fit the needs and strengths of the individual you are supporting is a great place to start. Here are five proven specific actions you can take to foster and encourage the growth of tomorrow’s leaders.

  • Empower your employees: Allow your staff to take ownership of projects that align with their strengths and thus showcase their talents to other senior leaders in your organization. Let them make decisions within their areas of expertise and responsibility. It builds their confidence and their buy-in.
  • Make it safe for your people to make mistakes: When employees make decisions, there is always a risk that the results may not be what was intended. When that happens, be thoughtful about how you react. If you berate, blame or penalize, your people will simply stop showing initiative, and will ultimately stop learning and growing. Instead, be deliberate about reviewing and learning from whatever went wrong.
  • Mentor and coach: Set up regular one-on-one meetings with your staff in which you discuss current and upcoming issues and challenges, offer specific constructive feedback and advice so that they can continue to learn and grow, and jointly identify learning and development opportunities.
  • Recognize achievements: When we acknowledge and praise, it tells people what they are doing well and encourages them to continue. That alone is a really good reason to do it. But even more, recognition for doing good work builds morale. When staff feel good about themselves, they are more invested in themselves and in the organization, which means that productivity and performance will go up too. So make it a point to deliberately and thoughtfully recognize your staff whenever you can.
  • Invest in training and professional development: The word “invest” creates an expectation of a positive return and thoughtful, good-quality training rarely disappoints. When you invest time and money into training and professional development for your people, it sends a strong message that you value them, and it is this very aspect that causes people to pay attention, absorb and put their learnings into action, all for the benefit of your organization.

Recognizing and nurturing talent should be a continuous process embedded into your organizational culture. If you consciously seek to identify potential in your people and take deliberate action to nurture it, you are well on your way to ensuring the viability of your organization, both now, and in the future.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a speaker, author, mentor to senior leaders, and the chief executive officer of the leadership development consultancy Turning Managers Into Leaders.

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