Are the next great leaders hiding in plain sight? - SmartBrief

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Are the next great leaders hiding in plain sight?

Great talent isn't always noticed. Here's how leaders can correct this blind spot and promote deserving employees into higher roles.

5 min read


Are the next great leaders hiding in plain sight?

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There are plenty of statistics that clearly show most organizations have great talent in their midst, going largely underutilized and chronically overlooked. Chances are good yours is one of them – so where to begin?

In my leadership training “Release the Untapped Potential of Your Underutilized Leaders,” I discuss how to identify the undiscovered and bring out the hidden leadership talent so they can really shine.

Here are the seven places your organization must look to find the next great leaders who are hiding in plain sight.

1. In a low-profile department

Every company has sections where exciting things happen, where big ideas are born or fostered, and newsworthy achievements occur. Then there are the less flashy divisions, where sometimes it is just about making sure the work gets done. No doubt, you have areas of your business where undiscovered leaders are surely and steadfastly completing the less sensational parts of corporate success.

Ask yourself where – and who – in your company fits this bill and start looking closer.

2. In someone else’s shadow

Anyone with a more showy sibling knows the pain of being outshone. Sometimes, even when you’re doing great work, there’s someone else who is doing something greater – or is at least more willing to toot their own horn. One of the best places to look for hidden talent is right in plain sight – next to the people who ensure no one overlooks them. Try checking out the immediate colleagues of your organization’s hottest superstar. Chances are good that there are some great people there who are not only contributing to that star’s success but also making strides of their own.

3. Not on the list for promotion

It can be really hard to get ahead when you’re unknown to senior management. When opportunities arise and names are being discussed, it’s difficult to be a contender if your name isn’t even on the list. Do you have areas of business that aren’t getting noticed because they’re not flashy or overly problematic? You are just quietly getting your work done.

Think of the reasons people in your company might not be known to higher ups and start looking in those areas – that’s where your underappreciated staff might lie.

4. On a different track

Not everyone travels a straight trajectory from college to C-suite. Often, great people make even greater choices (or sacrifices) to make life work for those around them. Promising careers are interrupted by relocating to be with a spouse, by going back to school, by parenting or by caring for a sick family member.

A person’s personal goals and job aspirations can take a hit, and someone who was on the path to senior leadership can end up on the sidelines. But not only is their great potential still there; you could argue it’s even greater for the life they’ve lived and the personal choices they’ve made. Look for those who have walked a different route, and you’ll find some invaluable input to your corporate leadership team.

5. Under the cloud of a failed project

When projects are unsuccessful, the people associated are often left with tarnished reputations, regardless of whether they had anything to do with the failure. Not all organizations are as forgiving of mistakes. Even when current management might be embracing the huge value of taking risks and learning from missteps, past failures can live on in a specter of gloom. Look for the good people who might be unfairly tainted by their history with certain people or projects in your organization.

6. Under unsupportive management

Not everyone is focused on lifting their team up and elevating talent within your organization. Great people are often lost in the shuffle under inattentive or ineffective leadership. Sometimes the credit for good work might even be misattributed to others — their manager or boastful colleagues. It can be difficult to garner positive attention without a strong advocate in senior leadership.

Keep your eye out for these frustrated individuals, doing great things with little recognition from managers less observant than you.

7. From an unconventional background

Some of the most underrepresented in senior leadership are those with different upbringings and experiences — individuals being held back because of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or culture. Many would tell you, if asked, that they were also suffering from some of the above situations in terms of being overlooked or undervalued because of their differences. Women and minorities have a lot to offer your organization and can bring vital perspectives to the challenges you’re facing. Seek out people who have been ignored because of their background, and you will find some great hidden talent.

Looking to win the talent war? Start looking within and you’ll find many undervalued potential leaders, hiding in plain sight. Start working to give them the exposure, opportunity and recognition they deserve, and you’ll be leagues ahead of your competition.


Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 executive coaches in America. Global Gurus named him No. 14 on its list of top 30 global coaching experts. He is the author of nine books, including “Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.” Garfinkle recently provided 1:1 executive coaching for 12 high-potential leaders who were selected based on the above seven categories. Subscribe to his Fulfillment at Work Newsletter and receive the free e-book “41 Ways to Get Promoted Now!” You can also view 75 of Garfinkle’s two-minute motivational videos on his YouTube channel.

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