Many organizations have tools in place to measure employee performance. Because of this, leaders find it straightforward and uncomplicated to assess their direct reports. The more challenging task, however, is determining how to assess potential in current or future leaders. Perhaps it’s because potential is more subjective. Or is it? What if you had a process or access to a system that could enable assessing potential regardless of who you were assessing? 

When the United States Army – a 244-year-old leader-making machine – decides to promote its leaders, the words of the promotion orders have significant meaning, especially when it comes to future potential:

The Secretary of the Army has reposed special trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity and professional excellence of the following. In view of these qualities and their demonstrated leadership potential and dedicated service to the United States Army, they are, therefore, promoted to the rank shown.

In today’s 21st-century workforce, leaders must develop and assess their team’s future potential. And that process begins with establishing an effective assessment process. Allow me to share the process I’ve developed and refined over my last 25 years as a leader. A process I call “H3FAST.”

Before we begin, it’s critical that we define potential. The dictionary defines potential (adj.) as “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.” So where can leaders start to assess the future potential and capacity of employees? It begins with assessing if the employee is Humble, Hungry, and Honeable (H3).  

Humble, Hungry, and Honeable (H3)

Humble (adj.) is defined as “having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance.” Author Ken Blanchard states, “Being humble is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Leaders can assess employee humility through a leadership lens by monitoring their behavior in complex situations, challenging tasks, or complicated projects. But don’t just observe them at work; how do they act at home, out with colleagues, working with other departments or clients?  

Hungry, in the leadership sense, is akin to “drive” or desire to win. No one wants to be on a losing team. One of my mentors – a retired three-star General, Stephen Lanza – would tell me, “People just want to be part of a winning team.” But how do you create a winning team? By having employees who are hungry and demonstrate the desire to go above and beyond their job description. The folks who have the drive and grit to push to victory, facing every obstacle head on, especially when morale is low, deadlines are looming, and quotas haven’t been met.  

Hungry leaders are also never satisfied when it comes to learning. They want more of it. James Arthur Ray, international best-selling author and entrepreneur, said, “Leaders are continuous learners; and it’s an important distinction to realize that learning is not just study. Study is good, but true learning only comes from continuous application and action.”

Honeable pertains to the condition of your heart. Does the employee have a teachable spirit? Can the employee be taught by different people; subordinates and leaders alike? This characteristic is essential because if an employee does not want to learn, then they will not want to teach others. 

Before moving forward, a leader must ensure the employee has passed the “H3” test. If not, there’s no need to continue because the employee is not ready for a leadership role or responsibilities. If the test is passed, continue to the next phase of assessing their potential and character through FAST.


Farmer. Does the employee have the work ethic of a farmer? Leaders must not be afraid to work and get their hands dirty when the need arises. This is also a test of grit: what processes does the employee have in place to maximize their time, talents, and treasures for the good of the organization? Farmers know the demand of sowing a harvest and taking diligent care throughout the season so they may reap the plentiful benefits when the time is right. Dan Hardy, author of The Compounding Effect, says, “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” It also must be with a leader’s outlook on the work they produce.

Athlete. Does the employee have the discipline of an athlete? Can they remain focused on a future goal, establish the steps and processes necessary to achieve the goal, and get through the monotonous, day-to-day routine to achieve success? Athletes have an ultra-focus on their disciplined daily habits that compound over time. These habits, however, are what make them successful and enables sustained success. Usain Bolt says the following about discipline: “Easy is not an option… no days off… never quit… be fearless… Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours of work.”

Soldier. Does the employee have the courage of a soldier? Soldiers know the challenge of combat, but they also know the courage it takes to do the “hard right” over the “easy wrong.” In the workplace, leaders must have the courage to face unenvious tasks and responsibilities, like initiating the hard conversations with low performing employees, and to do it all with dignity and respect. If an employee does not have the courage to have critical conversations with their team, the ability to hold subordinates accountable, or the strength to stand alone on their convictions and values, they have no business in leadership.

Teacher. Does the employee have the heart of a teacher? As I stated earlier, if the employee is Honeable, more likely than not, they will have the heart of a teacher. Leaders must be rivers of knowledge – not reservoirs. They must be willing to share and teach others in order for the next in line to be prepared.

John Maxwell once said, “Potential is one of the most wonderful words in any language. It looks forward with optimism. It is filled with hope. It promises success. It implies fulfillment. It hints at greatness. Potential is a word based on possibilities.” Assessing employee potential is an essential task for all leaders. If you don’t know where to begin, H3FAST may be able to get you started.