3 Reasons Why Potential Leaders Are Overlooked

Gold is not easily found, and good leaders similarly stay hidden to a company’s executives. This happens because people want to pursue a new career turn, fail to grab opportunities, or are simply not favored by their superiors. Yet good leaders are crucial to the success of a company and satisfaction of employees. Therefore, failing to recognize natural-born leaders is a loss to the company. There are different ways to explain for why leaders stay latent, but Kevin Lane, Alexia Larmaraud, and Emily Yueh offer the three most common reasons on McKinsey & Company:

  1. Complex organizational processes
  2. Bias in the selection process
  3. A narrow top-down lens

It’s a Big, Big World

It’s usually a huge challenge for big organizations to look for a leader. With various business units far from the corporate center, people don’t always get to know each other and work together. It’s just hard to be seen and stand out in such a crowd. Some employees can perform exceptionally in their jobs and display leadership potential, but they may forever stay quiet at their desk because they are “out of sight, out of mind” of their senior managers.

Another influential factor is bias in race, ethnicity, gender, or age. A heavy accent or a different skin color may directly or indirectly take away opportunity to climb higher. This is not an ethical act in the workplace; however, it is not always because managers are consciously discriminating. In many organizations, managers seek uniformity so they tend to search for people who look and behave like them.

The last but not least problem is the short-sighted attitude some managers hold when looking for other leaders. If your managers only pay attention to those at the top of the organization, ignore your achievements outside the company, or don’t take in what their subordinates view as a model leader, they just have a narrow lens and cannot look far enough. Potential leaders are not simply those who do their jobs at their desk well, but are those who can inspire others to work and still stay on top even off the clock.

Lane, Larmaraud and Yueh write about the “hunt” for gold leaders:

Finding employees with the qualities to be tomorrow’s leaders requires more than harvesting talent and should include what we call “hunting,” “fishing,” and “trawling” (exhibit). These approaches are more proactive and involve, for example, turning over more stones than usual, encouraging leaders to identify themselves, and finding new ways to tap into the environments where people live and work.

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One Comment

  1. You left out the most common reason for good leaders being overlooked. It is the fact that current managers see a person as “doing a good job” where they are. They may even say that employee is “vital” in the position they are currently in. Sadly then an employee stagnates where they are and is continually overlooked for advancement instead of given a chance to share their insight and motivation with other staff.

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