Why your future leaders need to have drive, and how to identify it

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Kiddy & Partners

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As previously described, one of the biggest challenges for HR and Talent professionals is answering the question: Who has what it takes to step up and lead our business forwards? At Kiddy & Partners, we define leadership potential as “The opportunity for significant and rapid acceleration in an individual’s ability to deliver greater value in the future”, and we see drive as one of the key elements of potential.

Assessment of an individual’s drive to achieve and desire to step up into a leadership position is one part of the complex puzzle of potential, to help determine how far and fast each individual is likely to develop over the coming months and years. So how can you assess drive, and what do you do if someone has the capability to step up but is not motivated to do so?

What is drive? 

When looking at drive in relation to leadership potential, there are two components [1]:

  1. Motivation to succeed – Being a leader is challenging. You need to have the motivation and perseverance to consistently deliver in difficult and ambiguous circumstances and take responsibility for achieving personal and organisational goals.  
  2. Career ambition – Being attracted towards leadership positions is critical. Not every person with potential has the desire to lead, and leaders are often identified on capability without taking career ambition into account [2]. Promoting people who would rather be subject matter experts into leadership positions can be detrimental to their overall engagement and satisfaction in the role [3].

How can individual motivation be assessed?

As occupational psychologists, we take a robust approach to assessment, taking into consideration a variety of data inputs:

  • Psychometric questionnaires allow us to consider the personality preferences around what motivates people to succeed, and in what type of position, job, and environment they will be most productive. They also enable us to measure an individual’s tendency to set high standards, have high aspirations and drive to achieve success.
  • 360-feedback involves gathering data from the individual and their key stakeholders to provide additional insight into how motivated they are to succeed, whether they deliver on goals and their levels of resilience and perseverance against setbacks. 
  • In-depth interviews give us information on previous experiences of showing motivation and drive, as well as insight into the individual’s career aspirations – whether they truly desire leadership positions. 
  • Business simulations immerse individuals in fictitious but realistic scenarios to stretch them by mirroring the challenges they may face as a senior leader. Data from business simulations gives us an opportunity to test an individual’s potential to be successful in more complex, demanding roles. 

Using the tools above, combined with our experience and expertise in leadership assessment, enables us to provide clarity and confidence on leadership potential within an organisation. 

What to do if they’re capable but unwilling? 

As mentioned earlier, not everyone who is capable of being a leader is willing to be a leader. The role of a leader requires great responsibility and ownership and potentially sacrifices to work-life balance given the typical scale and intensity of the role. For an individual to be highly motivated to reach and succeed in leadership positions, there needs to be alignment between the organisation’s values and the individual’s values, motivations and career aspirations. Where there is misalignment, it’s important to delve deeper to understand where this is coming from, as motivation and drive can be nurtured to some extent.

For example, it may be that certain aspects of the leadership role, such as work-life balance, are not aligned with the individual’s values and career aspirations, in which case it may be possible to shape the role to suit. This may involve challenging assumptions about how a role is performed – what is necessary for success and what is not. Alternatively, it may be that the individual has inaccurate assumptions about a leadership role that could be addressed by providing a job preview or mentoring from someone in a more senior leadership position. As part of Kiddy’s approach to assessment and development, we identify stretching assignments that can help ignite aspirations and motivations. However, if there are misalignments between critical values of the organisation and those of the individual, the best outcome may be to accept that a leadership role is not suited for that individual – at least not at that point in time. It should be recognised that this may change over time, so keep those conversations going. 

Everyone has potential, but potential for what is the critical question. The potential to be a leader requires drive – both the dedication to achieve goals by persisting in the face of challenge and adversity and the aspiration to progress into a leadership role. Kiddy & Partners have the expertise to be able to confidently assess and identify who has the potential to successfully lead in your organisation and how you can unlock that potential. 

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  1. Dries, N., & Pepermans, R. (2012). How to identify leadership potential: Development and testing of a consensus model. Human Resource Management, 51(3), 361-385.
  2. Dries, N. & Pepermans, R. (2008). "Real" high-potential careers: An empirical study into the perspectives of organisations and high potentials. Personnel Review, 37 (1), 85-108.
  3. Garavan, T.N. & Coolahan, M. (1996). Career mobility in organizations: implications for career development. Journal of European Industrial Training, 20 (4), 30-40.

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