Imagine that you are a hiring manager or even a small business owner presented with the task of meeting and interviewing a dozen candidates for the company. You will be looking at them one by one and, at the back of your mind, you might be wondering who among them will become the future manager of the company.

You are will probably be on the lookout for a potential leader, one who will contribute greatly to the achievement of the organization’s objectives and business goals.

Identifying this individual among a pool of candidates is not something that can be done by simply reading over their CVs or randomly pointing at the most sharply dressed person or the one who is the most eloquent.

A good employee is someone that every business would be happy to have. He comes to work every day, on time, and performs what he is supposed to. She successfully delivers the results that are expected of her.

However, businesses that are continuously growing and planning to grow are not going to be satisfied with having just “good employees”. They are going to be looking for those employees that perform above and beyond what is expected of them, and those who will lead the company to the growth that is being sought.

When a business is hiring new employees, it is actually investing in the future of the business. The employees that they hire today are assets that will become the leaders of the company in the future. Succession and workforce planning will benefit a lot from the efforts by management to identify those who are most likely to lead the company in the future and separating the top performing employees from the average ones. Just like any other investment, a lot of thought and consideration should go in choosing the employees.

How to Identify Top Performers and Future Leaders

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In this article, we will look into 1) the approaches and tools used in identifying top performers and future leaders, 2) common traits of those rare talents, and 3) what to look for in future leaders.


Fortunately for employers and human resource managers, there are tools that can help in finding these top performers and future leaders, by making them stand out from the crowd.

The following are seen as excellent indicators of the potential of employees.

Evaluation of Past and Current Job Performance

The work experience of the employee will matter a great deal. Beyond looking at the current performance of the employee, it is also just as important to look into his past performance, even if it was in other companies. This will make it easier for you to determine whether, early on, the employee has shown a pattern of being a good leader.

By tracing the career path that the employee has followed so far over the years, you can tell whether the employee has what it takes to rise up the ranks or not.

Talking with the supervisors and other employees that have worked, or are currently working directly with the employee will also provide good input in your assessment of her potentials, particularly the leadership behaviors.

In order to identify top performers, you can look at the output of the employees. The company may have a performance evaluation system that makes use of metrics that you can look at and make your evaluation from. Naturally, the ones registering the highest output are the top performers.

If this approach or tool is used, you will be able to categorize your candidates. Instead of just separating the top performers from the average and poor performers, you can break down the classification further.

Aside from the top performers in their respective job categories, you will be able to identify the problem solvers (who show great potential of becoming good decision-makers and managers) and the fast learners (who can pick things up easily that they are on the fast track of becoming in the league of top performers in the future).

Conduct of Competency Assessment

There are various assessment programs that can be employed to see whether employees have the competencies of becoming future leaders or not. There are even competency assessment centers that specialize in providing this service to companies for their employees.

Large companies have their own competency modeling programs in place, and they use these to assess the skills of their employees, so they do not have to outsource or seek the services of independent competency assessment centers.

This is how you can conduct a competency skills assessment.

Conduct of Interviews with the Employee, Supervisors and Co-workers

You can tell a lot about a person just by having a conversation with him, whether it is in a formal or an informal setting. In fact, having a casual chat or conversation is just as effective as meeting them for a round-table formal interview. Take every opportunity to interact with the employee – pick her brain, so to speak – and you can gain better understanding of her character and her “mettle”.

You can also go directly to the current leaders, supervisors and managers, and ask for their opinion on who among the employees show a lot of promise. Mentors are also in the best position to tell whether an employee has what it takes to lead in the future. Of course, you should not forget the employees, or those who are being led. Ask their opinion on who they think is a good leader, or who they see as a leader.

When using this tool, objectivity is required. Keep in mind that there is a risk that the information gleaned from these interviews may not be as impartial as you want. Thus, it is with a reasonable degree of professional skepticism that you approach your search for top performers and future leaders in this manner.

Conduct of Trainings for Skills Development

The company is mainly responsible for ensuring that its employees continue to grow and develop, because it is to the company’s advantage to have highly competent employees.

Companies then design training programs and various learning opportunities and experiences that are tailored or geared specifically for their employees. Through these learning activities, they will be able to see which employees show a lot of promise as top performers and future leaders.

Conduct of On-the-job Observation

The observation will focus on the leadership behaviors and attitude of employees during the actual performance of their jobs.

Learn more about how to identify and develop top leaders by watching this stellar presentation of Kevein Groves.


What do top performers and future leaders have in common?

Top quality job

A top performer will not be satisfied with “good enough”. She is not the type to settle for getting 100% of the work done. Instead, she will be looking at how she can get more than 100%, and so she will put a high priority on the quality of the work.

The top performer is one who will seek compliments and commendations for the work that she does. In fact, you can say that she is thirsty for this recognition, which is why she will work many times harder to produce quality results.

Fearlessness when it comes to making decisions

A sign of a good leader is stepping up and making decisions when it is needed. He may be nervous, but he does not let his nerves turn into fear, so that he is afraid that he might make a mistake.

Some may view this as recklessness, but it is also seen as being bold and fearless – traits that business leaders should possess, considering how cutthroat and competitive the business landscape could be.

Continuous skills and capability development

You can tell when an employee has future aspirations to become better and bigger in the future through his attitude toward learning. He will look for ways to gain more knowledge and improve his skills and competencies, particularly those that are related to his job or career.

Aside from continuing education to earn more credentials, the employee will also look for every opportunity to grow personally. Trainings, workshops, seminars, and even short courses, are sought, even if it is through their personal expense and not through the company.

Initiative and self-direction

You do not need to constantly look over the shoulder of a top performing employee to monitor his work. He will take it upon himself to find ways to do his job better. Sure, he may seek some guidance and advice, but he will go at it his own way after getting input from supervisors. He will take it upon himself to do his own research and pay more attention to projects than what is expected.

Top performers are those who can function on their own and accomplish things without being told how to do it. They take the initiative to seek new challenges, and you will often find them on the frontline, volunteering for new assignments.


Aside from seeking compliments, top performers are also always asking for feedback – from their supervisors and employers, from their co-workers, and from clients or customers. They treat these as constructive criticism, using them as pointers so they can improve their performance. These are used as motivations for them to go above and beyond what is written on their job descriptions and contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the business.

Cool and composed

Pressure is a constant companion in business, but there are those who handle pressure better than most. They remain calm even when everything seems to be going crazy. They are the employees who have great potential of becoming leaders.

Where does this cool and calm come from?

These are brought about by the employee’s confidence that he can do the job. They are knowledgeable about the job, and they are well-prepared. This enables them to continue working with grace and keep their cool even if the demands from bosses and customers are increasing and deadlines are looming.

Better than average interpersonal skills

Good leadership involves being able to communicate and connect with people – not just the ones that you lead, but everyone else that you come across in the business or the industry.

Those with networking skills are demonstrating that they can be good leaders. Some people are better able to command attention than others. They have more charisma, and they have an easier time engaging socially with other people from different walks of life.

This is an indication that they are more than capable of building relationships and maintaining them, and this is definitely a trait that can be of great use in the future, once they take on the reins and lead the company.


There are specific things that an employee must have, or criteria that he must meet, in order to be said that he has a potential to be a leader.

Potential over performance

There is one thing that must be clarified: top performers are not necessarily leader material. This means that an employee can have excellent results, with output that is above and beyond what is expected.

Performance is not the only thing that you should look at. You should also take a look at their aptitude, their personal goals and how they are aligned with the business goals, and their overall potential.

Attachment and commitment to the company

You have to look into the level of engagement of the employee to the company and its goals. How proactive is the employee in participating in the efforts of the company to improve, grow and expand?

There are employees who go about their business, focusing completely on their assigned tasks and responsibilities. They deem this to be enough contribution to the company.

There are others, however, who make an extra effort, out of genuine interest and concern for the company and its future. They give suggestions and provide ready assistance to their current leaders. If you come across this type of employee, then you should take note. You might be looking at the future leader of the company.

Role taken on by the employee

This is somehow connected to the previous item. If you want to make things easier, you can divide your employees into two groups: the observers and the actors.

The first group is composed of employees that are content to just stand back and watch.

The second group is composed of those who actually do something. They move, they act – they are catalysts. They are able to make themselves indispensable to management and the company as a whole.

Level of accountability and responsibility

A good leader is one who takes responsibility for his or her actions. If they make a mistake, they own up to it. They have no problems about apologizing when they know they are in the wrong, and they make amends for it properly. Accountability is also something that you should look for in a leader. The capacity to hold oneself accountable for failure is an indication that, when you become a leader, you will be more committed to the job at hand.

It is normal for an individual to hesitate and even refuse doing something for fear that, should they fail, it would reflect poorly on them.

A good leader may have such hesitations or fears, but they do not let these stop them from acting or doing something. They are gamblers; they fully recognize the risk of failure, but they are willing to face it head on.

Ability to take on more responsibilities

A leader is someone who oversees a lot of activities, divisions, departments or projects. This means that, in a way, he should be a jack-of-all-trades, or able to do a lot of things. The willingness to take on extra responsibilities, and being able to do them, means that an employee has the potential to be a leader in the future.

A good sign of this is being able to multi-task. If he can focus on more than one thing at one time, and accomplish them both with flying colors and excellent results, you have a leader in the making.

Empathy and team player attitude

If you hope to be able to lead a team or even an entire business someday, you should be able to work with other people. A good leader should be a good team player, to begin with. After all, how can he hope to lead a team someday when he does not know the fundamental way that teams work?

Some employees work better alone. Others produce better results when working within a team. If an employee can do both, then there is a huge possibility that he can become a good leader in the future.

A potential leader is one who is willing and able to help others. He should also have a degree of selflessness in him, or the willingness to put others before himself. An untouchable leader is not a leader at all, so he should also be one that can readily interact with other employees.

Some aspiring leaders are under the impression that their status puts them head and shoulders above other employees. Because of this, they restrict themselves to keeping relationships on a professional level. Going personal is not something that they would even consider.

Personal relationships are just as important in the workplace as professional relationships, and if an employee is able to handle both very well, he can be a good leader in the future.

Above average communication skills

Again, we are back to the talks on charisma and the ability to command attention and respect. There are employees that can communicate easily with other employees, and practically anyone and everyone they come in contact with.

Eloquence is expected of a leader, because she should be able to convey her ideas clearly, concisely and with conviction. Whether spoken or written, she should be able to deliver the message that needs to be delivered. At the same time, she should also have the ability to listen to others.

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