Identifying High-Potential New Leaders

Identifying High-Potential New Leaders

Jeff Wolf, President, RCC

Time to Read: 1 Minute

How do you identify high-potential new leaders to guide your firm for future survival? Leaders must be proficient in both hard and soft skills. For years, law firms looked at only hard skills or technical knowledge, such as legal expertise. They viewed these hard skills as the most important characteristics of high-potential leaders. However, the soft skills (people or interpersonal skills) are key for the next generation of leaders.

Look for these soft skills:

  • effective communication
  • coaching ability
  • listening skills
  • teambuilding capability
  • facility for building relationships with their staffs and teams and with cross-functional areas to achieve goals and get work done
  • a sense of inquisitiveness
  • a willingness to improve
  • trustworthiness
  • a tendency to ask a lot of questions
  • an understanding of how their actions have an effect not only on themselves, but also on others

Leadership is difficult and demanding because leaders must help drive results, inspire, guide people and teams, and make tough decisions. Clearly, not everyone has the desire to lead, so the first question appears to be:

  • Does the person want to be a leader?
  • What are his goals and aspirations?
  • Does she see the big picture versus having a silo mentality?
  • Does he have the ability to strategically navigate complicated issues?
  • What types of real-life experiences does she have?
  • Is he honest and ethical?

Leaders need to be positive and have a great attitude because they can either impart or sap energy. A leader’s upbeat attitude becomes contagious, lifting the morale of those around her. You can always teach skills, but you cannot always teach people how to be positive; they either have a great attitude or they don’t.

Observe firsthand how potential leaders work with others and how other people view them. When they stand up to speak in front of a group, do they exude confidence, present articulate, clear messages, and carry themselves well? They should also have good judgment skills in three discrete areas:        

  1. People. Can they make sound judgments about people, such as anticipating the need for key personnel changes and aligning people to make the right call?
  2. Strategy. Are they flexible and adaptable? Can they make changes when a current strategy isn’t working?
  3. Grace Under Pressure. When they’re in crisis situations, do they remain calm, focus on their goals, think clearly, and develop new alternative strategies? When they make a mistake, do they admit it, let others know about it, and move forward, or do they try to hide it? By admitting mistakes, they serve as role models, communicating that it’s okay to fail and make a mistake.

Lastly, employ a series of tests and assessments to further measure their hard and soft skills.


Jeff Wolf is the author of the international best-seller Seven Disciplines of a Leader.

A dynamic speaker and highly requested executive coach, he was named one of the country's top 100 thought leaders for his accomplishments in leadership development and managerial effectiveness. He may be reached at 858-638-8260 or        




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