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Future Leaders 63e2bac290c60

5 Things to Look for in Your Future Leaders

Feb. 7, 2023
Bosses tend to be more about the power of their position, while a good leader looks at the influence of their position.

One of the main reasons employees leave their companies is because of their boss. Note that there is a difference between a “boss” and a leader.

When you have too many bosses and not enough leaders, you probably have a higher-than-normal turnover rate and a constant churn of new hires impacting other metrics such as quality, production, delivery and safety. Not to mention your organization’s reputation. 

These bosses can wreak havoc with both your current employees and your labor pool. Social media apps such as Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn let potential hires not only see your dirty laundry, but smell it, too. Your reputation as an organization now goes beyond the borders of your community.

Do not leave your future leaders to chance. Actively identify them when you promote people into supervisory positions. Look for leaders instead of promoting bosses.

Impactful leaders usually exhibit common behaviors. It’s not who you need to look for, but what you need to look for. Bosses tend to be more about the power of their position, while a good leader looks at the influence of their position. 

First, the Data

To measure the characteristics of a good leader, we looked at results from our Denison Leadership Development 360 Survey, used by thousands of manufacturers over the past 25+ years, and effectiveness ratings for over 3000+ manufacturing leaders (bosses, direct reports and peers).

The top five drivers of what bosses, peers, and direct reports see in effective leaders are:

1. Has earned the confidence and trust of others. (They have gained respect and give respect)

2.  Engages others in ways that ensure buy-in and commitment. (Work well with people)

3. Builds effective teams that get the job done. (Know how to coach others)

4. Serves as a model that creates change in other parts of the organization. (Drive change through process improvement)

5.  Provides employees with a clear mission that gives meaning and direction to their work. (Big picture people)

From here, it is just a matter of identifying what to look for in those who will become leaders in your organization.

1. Has Earned the Confidence and Trust of Others

This person has the experience, knowledge and performance record to earn them respect from their peers. They are dependable, accountable and a model employee. People will probably describe this employee as a good person, knowledgeable and a “hard worker.” The fact that this person has earned people’s trust tells you they have earned respect.

This person will treat people how they want to be treated. This flexibility is key to great leadership—adapting their style to motivate the individual in front of them as much as possible. 

People on the floor describe this person as approachable, caring, friendly, positive, calm, a good listener. A “people person.”

Their metrics are above average; they have a strong safety, quality, and production record. They have a great attendance record and are typically in the top quartile on their performance evaluations.

2. Engages Others in Ways that Ensure Buy-in and Commitment

As employees move from individual contributors to supervisor/managers, you need them to play well with other supervisor/managers. You do not want them setting up silos.

This person works well with everyone. They have friends at work and are good at setting up informal networks with people throughout the facility.

They are a good negotiator, setting their ego aside for the good of the organization. They understand success is about we, not me. They are probably known for having good suggestions, but also listen to others’ suggestions.


If you are interviewing candidates, ask them to give examples of how they work with people outside their work unit. Have them describe their relationships with people they are not associated with on a day-to-day basis. During the interview, observe their body language. Are they calm, attentive, and patient, or do they try to talk over you and seem agitated? 

A great leader is a good listener and is often described as such by people in the Denison database. Does this person listen as you speak, or are they just waiting to talk? Do they ask good questions that demonstrate curiosity in others?

3. Builds Effective Teams that Get the Job Done

People who are effective leaders are natural coaches. They understand the key to success for any team is to develop the people who work for them. This person’s boss has probably noticed they are naturally a good trainer. When new people come on board, it is probably this person who does most of the training. 

On the flip side, this person is someone who knows how to ask for help. Delegating is a form of trust. People who seem like natural coaches tend to trust the people that work for them; therefore, they are more likely to delegate. Those who do not trust and do not delegate end up doing the work themselves and burn themselves out.


Ask this person how they feel about training other people. If they see the development of people on their team as important, ask them to explain why. Some may just say “to get the work done.”  A future leader will talk about how a well-trained employee will impact not only the work getting done, but how it impacts safety, quality, production and the overall psyche of the new employee. They will talk about taking the time to really make sure the new person gets it and is not just thrown to the wolves.

4. Serves as a Model that Creates Change in Other Parts of the Organization

This person would not be described as negative. They come across as someone who generally wants to do what is best for the company. They are not interested in gossip, finding it wasteful and destructive. They talk more about process improvement and how to solve issues, and are involved in one or more process improvement teams at the facility. They are not afraid to speak up at meetings or town halls with meaningful, constructive dialogue. They have a great work ethic and practice what they preach. People probably refer to them as a problem-solver.

5. Provides Employees with a Clear Mission that Gives Meaning and Direction to their Work

This person’s boss has probably noticed this employee understands the “big picture.” You don’t have to spell it out. They get how all the various parts of the organization fit together and what it takes for it to be successful. They are a good communicator, and are good at sharing information with others.


Ask this person to describe the purpose or vision of the company. What are the major goals the organization wants to accomplish this year?

Ask them how they would inspire others. Not only with where the company’s vision, but how they inspire others toward projects or jobs. Is this person strategical in their thinking?

There is no silver bullet to great leadership. Companies with great cultures never leave anything to chance. With everything being equal, they go the distance. They take the time to carefully promote future leaders and by doing so, put themselves ahead of their competition.

Jay Richards is a partner and member of the founding team at Denison, a firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specializing in corporate culture and leadership development. For more than 20 years, Jay has worked with manufacturing firms in improving their culture and leadership. 

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