DON’T YOU HATE WHEN THIS HAPPENS?! … You search and search but can’t find the mustard in the refrigerator. Then your spouse grabs it off the shelf right in front of you and says, “If it had teeth, it would have bitten you!” 

In his book Unlimited Power, Tony Robbins calls this type of event a mental scotoma, which he defines as a mental blind spot. According to Webster, a scotoma is actually “a spot in the visual field in which vision is absent or deficient.” Robbins uses the term to underscore how these mental blind spots can keep us from seeing things that are right in front of us.

I hear examples of this all the time. I will be talking with someone about sending an emerging leader to a Broker Smackdown, a Council program designed to build business acumen in emerging leaders, and they will respond, “I don’t know who I would send. I don’t think I have anyone.” According to Robbins, the way to overcome a scotoma is to look at things in a different way, to reframe the way you see something.

Russell Conwell, the founder of Temple University, used the parable of Acres of Diamonds in the early 1900s to help people see things differently. The parable tells the tale of Ali Hafed, who travels the world looking for something that is in his own backyard. Conwell reminds us that to see things differently we must be open to the possibilities around us. We overlook the value of something because we believe we already know it. We must learn to look at the familiar in new ways—some of the best inventions (snaps, the cotton gin, the lawn mower) were created when people found a new approach to an everyday thing.

I believe, as an industry, we may suffer from a mental scotoma when we think about who the emerging leaders are in our firms. I contend you have diamonds in your backyard that you might not be seeing. So, let’s talk about different ways to identify emerging leaders.

Stephen Blandino, in his blog “Signs of an Emerging Leader,” suggests the following guidelines:

  1.  Look for the people in your firm who have influence, the folks who have the respect of others. Be sure to look beyond big personality.
  2.  Who takes initiative in your office? The first sign of a potential leader is demonstrating an ability to lead oneself. Identify the people who seek responsibility—not accept it, but seek it—looking for projects to take on.
  3.  People who possess forward-thinking ability, who think with innovation and creativity, could be the people to move things in the right direction. They see the world as it can be. They want to disrupt the status quo. They will not be confined to what is. They see better ways to get the job done.
  4.  Who in your office has strong people skills? Those who know how to work with other people will know how to influence people. This is a sure sign of an emerging leader.
  5.  Is there someone on your team who has the ability to motivate and mobilize others? The ability to see the need is only half the job. Knowing how to respond to that need and get others to help shows the potential to progress toward a higher leadership level.
  6.  Look at your problem solvers. True leaders are the ones who, instead of whining, wrap their head around the problem and work to solve it.
  7.  Emerging leaders are teachable, with a desire to grow, improve and be excellent in all they do.

In a Forbes article titled “The Best Talent You Have May Be Right Under Your Nose,” contributor John Baldoni, international author on leadership, tells us that sometimes our most talented leaders get overlooked because their supervisors have them in positions of low visibility. To spot this hidden talent, he tells us, look at teams that meet their deadlines and do it in ways that other teams envy. Engage these teams in conversation and listen for those who talk about the effort and skills of the people on their team. These are the people to consider for roles of higher responsibility.

Tony Richards of Clear Vision Development Group, in his blog “How to Identify Emerging Leaders,” writes that the following characteristics and traits are present in the folks who are your future leaders: (1) mental toughness—they rise to the occasion when things get difficult; (2) resiliency—they recover quickly from adversity, have a great ability to handle criticism and “eat critical feedback for breakfast”; and (3) strong communication skills—they write, speak and listen well.

While it is important to bring new talent into our industry, let’s be sure we are also developing the talent we already have, the emerging leaders who are sitting right under our noses, on the shelf, next to the mustard.

McDaid is The Council’s SVP of Leadership & Management Resources. elizabeth.mcdaid@ciab.com