You know your company has hidden leaders, just waiting to be uncovered and given opportunities to shine. But how to find them?
Your underrepresented talent pool contains some high-potential leaders held back by their gender, ethnicity, orientation, culture or even personal style. Their skills are waiting, undeveloped and wasted, while they become less and less engaged in your organization as they are passed over again and again. (In my corporate training, “The Invisible Leaders: How to Find Them and Let Them Shine,” I explain how you can highlight your hidden talent and raise their visibility to others.)
If you want to bring opportunities to your unknown potential leaders and improve diversity, learn how to spot them hiding in plain sight.
The Worker Bee
No doubt you’ve met employees who work hard, bustling from task to task and getting it all done without making any kind of fuss. They tend to be valued members of their teams — appreciated in a low-key way by those around them, but otherwise largely unnoticed by others.
While they meet every expectation, they are frequently overlooked when people are gathering insights or perspectives, and are sometimes outright forgotten when applauding a victory. They might even claim they don’t mind because their quiet demeanor really doesn’t love the spotlight, but everyone likes and deserves to be remembered, if not loudly celebrated, for their successes.
The Second Mate
Aboard ships, the second mate is a critical member of the leadership team but often has very different tasks than the captain or even the first mate. Most people know what the first mate does, as the captain’s second in command. They are highly visible, clearly on track for their own captaincy and often similar in style and duties.
The second mate, however, can also be the navigator setting the course, or the medical officer managing the health of the crew. They are usually specialized, but different than the more visible two ranking officers in command. Think about the team members you have who fit the bill – providing critical and/or specialized direction but not fitting the typical stereotype of outspoken leadership, in the spotlight and directing the charge.
Second mates still have career aspirations but may mistakenly believe that there’s no need to draw additional attention to the critical skills they bring to the table – surely their contributions speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the truth is that they are often overlooked in favor of the more easily visible and traditional leadership styles.
There is a whole entertainment subgenre out there now dealing with the frustrations of being a sidekick, and with good reason! Imagine being a highly capable member in a partnership where someone else always gets the focus, attention and credit for your good work!
It’s no coincidence that often times, these sidekicks (in movies and in life) are women and/or members of cultural or ethnic minorities — those most likely to be continually overlooked. Do you have people doing great work that is being credited to “bigger” personalities in the room? Think about who in your group might be frustrated by their low visibility and lack of recognition while others doing similar work get more respect.
There’s a frequent habit amongst those you’re seeking to be quick to “give away” the credit for success to others. While it is an excellent skill to recognize others and the valuable roles they play, often these leaders downplay their own achievements by minimizing the criticality of their own work. They may attribute the success to others, to luck, or to a higher power in order to deflect praise or the appearance of pride.
This is especially common amongst women and some minorities — in certain cultures, this behavior is even expected and considered the minimum level of politeness when congratulated for anything. Accept the accolades these hidden leaders give to their team and their peers, but don’t allow them to cheapen their own role in successes.
Think about the team members who never get excited and never get distracted by disruptions in the flow of a project, or by sudden chaos in the office. They may be first in in the morning or last to leave at night, and unlikely to waver from completing a task given to them. As such, they may choose not to participate as much or as often in social gatherings, or even idle coffee chat. They are driven, focused and always “on their game” at work.
These personality types come to work to, well, work. This means they may have high productivity but very low visibility to anyone who doesn’t know to seek them out. They may be the one who holds all the keys and actually knows what’s going on, but do others even see them? Would anyone outside their immediate group think to ask their opinion? They might never advance in their career if someone else doesn’t notice their contributions.
Once you’ve spotted your hidden leaders, what next? It is a great first step that you now recognize the untapped value in these team members, but you’ll need a plan to raise their visibility, increase their influence in your organization, and change any perceptions others have about them. You need to change people’s minds from “excellent teammate” to “promising leader.”
Think about the opportunities you can provide, right now, to start planting those ideas and start uncovering your hidden leaders.
By Joel Garfinkle