I had the opportunity to evaluate countless leadership candidates as an instructor at the US Army Ranger School. Students were required to demonstrate more than just proficiency at specific tasks; they had to show the potential to build cohesive teams to get the job done. Candidates were required to unite a team around a central objective and keep them motivated to complete the mission.
The idea was to take a group of soldiers, push them to their physical limitations, and ask them to solve challenging problems while rotating them through leadership positions. We wanted to see how they would perform under stress and needed a complete picture of their leadership style.
The real challenge was seeing which leadership behaviors took over when I was not around to observe. Some candidates would perform well when I was watching but would default to destructive behaviors when unobserved. I wanted to know more about their personality tendencies under pressure and how they impacted those around them to get results.
Feedback from peers and subordinates provided great insight into leadership potential and how candidates reacted under stress. We conducted these reviews three separate times throughout the course. Candidates ranked each other on leadership from top to bottom. This technique offered a broader perspective of how a teammate managed relationships to get the job done. It was real-time 360-degree feedback. Peer comments were often the deciding factor for their potential as a leader.
Evaluating performance alone from a single source may tell us who is the best contributor but will not necessarily reveal the best leader. We must look beyond performance to understand their motivation and specific characteristics of their personality.
A recent study of over 200 firms found that performance as a salesperson was negatively correlated with performance as a sales manager. If you promote your number one salesperson to management, you create two problems: You lose your top salesperson and you gain a poor manager.
Look beyond performance alone
A single subjective performance rating is vulnerable to several factors that may provide a cloudy picture. Performance ratings from a single source may include inherent biases and be tainted by office politics. Incorporate other perspectives to gain a better understanding of leadership potential.
Use personality tools
Relationships matter. Personality assessments and peer reviews provide tremendous insight into a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as a leader. This data can be more useful than performance alone because measuring behavioral tendencies will help you paint a clearer picture of temperament, management style, and openness to the viewpoints of others.
Align with your vision and values
Let your company vision and values help you drive toward the ideal leaders. Have a clear vision of what success in this position will look like and what character traits must be demonstrated. A failure to identify the right person is costly, so slow down and ensure that they embody the leadership values the company needs.
At the end of the day, high-potential leaders can work toward the long-term goal and manage relationships without getting overwhelmed by obstacles along the way. Despite challenging conditions, they understand the objective and work well with others to accomplish it, even under stress. 360-degree feedback can help us see beyond a single performance rating to identify high-potential leaders. Much like evaluating potential Rangers, getting the complete picture can be a real challenge. Bring in multiple perspectives and personality tools to see how candidates lead others when you are not able to observe them in action. A complete picture helps identify leaders who will rally the team to get results.