Here are some practical ways to identify leadership potential.

2 Timothy 2:24

When identifying potential leaders, it’s helpful to find the natural leaders, of course. But it’s also important to determine whether a person is capable of learning leadership. The natural leader will stand out. The trick is identifying those who are capable of learning leadership over time.

Here are several traits to help identify whether someone is capable of learning to lead:

  • Do I see a constructive spirit of discontent? Some people would call this criticism, but there’s a big difference in being constructively discontent and being critical. If somebody says, “There’s got to be a better way to do this,” I see if there’s leadership potential by asking, “Have you ever thought about what that better way might be?” If he says no, he is being critical, not constructive. But if she says yes, she’s challenged by a constructive spirit of discontent.
  • Do they offer practical ideas? Highly original people are often not good leaders because they are unable to judge their output; they need somebody else to say, “This will work” or “This won’t.” Brainstorming is not a particularly helpful practice in leadership, because ideas need to stay practical. Not everybody with practical ideas is a leader, of course, but leaders seem to be able to identify which ideas are practical and which aren’t.
  • Is anybody listening? Potential leaders have a “holding court” quality about them. When they speak, people listen.
  • Does anyone respect them? Peer respect doesn’t reveal ability, but it can show character and personality. I also look at the family of a potential leader. The family’s feelings toward someone reveal much about his or her potential to lead.
  • Can they create or catch vision? When I talk to people about the future, I want their eyes to light up. I want them to ask the right questions about what I’m talking about. A person who doesn’t feel the thrill of challenge is not a potential leader.
  • Do they show a willingness to take responsibility? When I worked in business, if the vice-president and the security guard were paid the same money, I’d still want to be vice-president. Carrying responsibility doesn’t intimidate me, because the joy of accomplishment—the vicarious feeling of contributing to other people—is what leadership is all about.
  • Do they finish the job? A completion factor is essential. I might test somebody’s commitment by putting him or her on a task force. I’d find a problem that needs solving and assemble a group of people whose normal responsibilities don’t include tackling that problem. The person who grabs hold of the problem and won’t let go, like a dog with a bone, has leadership potential. This quality is critical in leaders, for there will be times when nothing but one’s iron will says, “Keep going.”
  • Are they tough-minded? No one can lead without being criticized or without facing discouragement. A potential leader needs a mental toughness. I don’t want a mean leader; I want a tough-minded leader who sees things as they are and will pay the price.—FRED SMITH; © 2003 by Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit