Three Factors that Determine Potential

Finding the next generation of leadership is the primary job of current leaders, and it’s one of the most challenging tasks they must tackle. Many larger organizations have a pipeline of talented, high-potential candidates they have assessed, mentored, and provided opportunities for. These future leaders are known quantities, at least within the context of the roles they’ve taken on and their performance over time.

But how can a company assess candidate potential for work they may never have done before? And how might the company recognize talent in staff members who are new to the team?

These questions have been answered by the principals of ghSMART, a consulting firm that helps its clients attract and retain quality leaders. ghSMART’s potential model was built after studying a database of more than 23,000 candidate assessments for roles at public and private companies. The team conducted in-depth analyses of 1,500 individuals, from entry-level professionals to senior leaders.

They came up with three factors that predict an individual’s ability to grow and handle increased complexity in new roles. Writing for Harvard Business Review, they identify these leadership qualities:

  • Cognitive quotient (CQ): how they leverage their intellect
  • Drive quotient (DQ): what motivates them and how do they apply their energy
  • Emotional quotient (EQ): how they interact with those around them

The key to understanding potential is measuring how a candidate employs these traits in their work. Take intellect, for example, which has been measured for generations. The ghSMART team says intellect assessments can be flawed because they favor candidates who have excellent verbal skills and are confident taking tests. They can also favor “book smarts” over practical smarts and business instincts.

The authors write, “To measure CQ, you’ll want to search for the more advanced behaviors that distinguish people who use their intellect to solve problems. Do they routinely step back from their tasks to see things from the perspective of their manager (or their manager’s manager)? When considering which path to take, do they try to look around corners to anticipate the unexpected? When making decisions, even small ones, do they ground their thinking in how they can create value for the business?”

The authors say High Drive Quotient employees push themselves to leave their comfort zones and seek new challenges. They’re also resilient and not easily discouraged by setbacks. Overall, these individuals are not driven simply to improve their own performance and achieve success for themselves, but also for the entire team.

Companies have recognized the value of emotional intelligence for years and have used assessments to determine how well workers regulate their own emotions, how self-aware they are, and how well they manage their interactions with others. But the ghSMART team also measured the ability to “engage with impact,” to use their insights to influence stakeholders, and act with courage and empathy during difficult situations.

When managers are trained to look for these qualities in candidates, they allow for the opportunity to discover unsuspected potential. Managers should design unique interview questions and allow candidates to interact with other parts of the company. Relationship building is a specific and accountable priority.

Incorporating these steps into a company’s leadership coaching, the authors say, can “allow you to tap a much larger, deeper, more diverse leadership pool than you realized you had.”


Work hard. Play Hard. 

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