5 Subtle Signs of Leadership Potential

We can all agree that identifying potential leaders is a crucial part of organizational success. But, too often, leaders are promoted purely for their technical ability. What would happen if organizations put equal weight on cultural competence in their promotion criteria? In this episode, we're talking about just that. Listen in as our hosts, Tim and Junior, discuss the question: What are the subtle signs that someone will make it in leadership?

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Episode Show Notes

We can all agree that identifying potential leaders is a crucial part of organizational success. But, too often, leaders are promoted purely for their technical ability. What would happen if organizations put equal weight on cultural competence in their promotion criteria? In this episode, we're talking about just that. Listen in as our hosts, Tim and Junior, discuss the question, what are the subtle signs that someone will make it in leadership?

Key Takeaways:

  • Identifying potential leaders is crucial for the success of organizations.
  • Five subtle signs that someone will make it in leadership include: washing the dishes, acknowledging silent contributors, spending their own money to learn, taking initiative, and admitting when they don't know something.
  • These signs reflect qualities such as humility, initiative, and a commitment to personal and professional development.
  • Leaders should prioritize learning, take ownership of their own development, and be willing to take action and make decisions.


00:39 Identifying Potential Leaders

12:19 Subtle Sign #1: They Wash the Dishes, Take Out the Trash, and Refill the Paper Towels

21:17 Subtle Sign #2: They Acknowledge the Efforts of Silent Contributors

28:36 Subtle Sign #3: They Spend Their Own Money to Learn

33:37 Subtle Sign #4: They Kill the Snake When They See the Snake

39:27 Subtle Sign #5: They Say 'I Don't Know' When They Don't Know

47:11 Conclusion

Episode Transcript

0:00:02.4 Jillian: Welcome back Culture by Design listeners. It's Jillian, one of the producers of the podcast. We can all agree that identifying potential leaders is a crucial part of organizational success. But too often, leaders are promoted purely for their technical ability. What would happen if organizations put equal weight on cultural competence in their promotion criteria? In this episode, we're talking about just that. Listen in as our hosts, Tim and Junior, discuss the question, what are the subtle signs that someone will make it in leadership? As always, you can find show notes, important links, and episode transcripts on our website at leaderfactor.com/podcast. Thanks for listening and enjoy today's episode on the subtle signs of leadership potential.


0:00:52.9 Junior: Welcome back everyone to Culture by Design. My name's Junior. I'm here with my co-host, Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be discussing five subtle signs someone will make it in leadership. Tim, how you doing?

0:01:05.9 Tim Clark: Fantastic. Really, really excited about this conversation.

0:01:08.6 Junior: Yeah, it should be a good one.

0:01:09.5 Tim Clark: This is going to be a unique and distinctive conversation. I think we're going to bring up some things that maybe people don't normally think of when they're trying to identify high potential. They're trying to identify people that could be good leaders. Hopefully, we'll say some things you never thought about.

0:01:27.9 Junior: Well, shout out Jillian, one of the producers of the podcast. We have these podcast meetings to discuss topics and titles, and this was spurred on from her. So, thank you.

0:01:36.6 Tim Clark: Thank you, Jillian.

0:01:39.2 Junior: Not everyone will make it in leadership. We know that, not by chance or by destiny, but by choice. So if this is a certainty, then how can we tell who will make it and who won't? To frame the stakes a little bit, there was a study that I looked at from Zenger Folkman in 2019. It identified that the top 20% of leaders contribute 1200% more value to the organizations than the bottom 20%. That's a big difference. So how do we identify that top 20% to get the 1200% more value? That's our topic today. On the one hand, there are things to pay attention to that should be obvious, that will help us evaluate someone's fitness to lead other people, but that's not what we're going to spend time on today, not the obvious things.

0:02:26.9 Junior: On the other hand, there are some things that are less obvious that correlate, in our opinion, pretty tightly to good leadership. Tim, what do you think about this topic generally?

0:02:35.9 Tim Clark: Intuitively, if we're talking about signs that someone could be a good leader, we might be thinking of these big things or heroic things that give us clear evidence that this person can be successful. And I would say that it's counterintuitive to that. Yes, the leaders in general need to become force multipliers. That's what leadership is. It's leverage in the organizational sense of the word. But these things that we're going to be talking about are perhaps deceptively simple, Junior. They're not big heroic things, but they indicate patterns. They indicate what's going on in the head and the heart of an individual.

0:03:24.9 Junior: There's something that I want to call out as we begin, and that is that the viability of our organizations, your organization, my organization, depends on the quality of our leaders. And you've said many times, teams and organizations don't outperform their leaders, they reflect them, which means high-quality leaders, high-quality organizations, low-quality leaders, low-quality organizations. And I'm curious if you've seen exceptions to this.

0:03:55.1 Tim Clark: On occasion, Junior, you might have a team, and the team has a leader, and the leader is not doing a very good job. And so what happens is that the de facto leadership responsibility, sometimes it shifts to another person, and that person is not the one that has the formal authority to lead the team, but becomes the de facto leader. So, I've seen that happen. And in some of those cases, the team is able to improve its performance. But if you think about it, it's not a violation of the principle. It's actually confirmation of the principle because what's happening is that the leadership role is shifting to another person. And so, again, we can say that the team is not going to outperform the leader, but will reflect the leader. In this case, the team shifted to reflect the performance of someone else. Kind of an interesting situation, but that does happen on occasion. But I think that the rule holds in virtually every case that I've seen.

0:05:02.2 Junior: Well, I think the rule absolutely holds, especially in that case. They just chose a new leader. They said, you know what? You're not cutting it. We're going to go with somebody else. And then they moved forward. I think it is confirmation to the rule. So here's what makes things a little bit complicated. Leadership, the quality of leaders, lives on a spectrum as most things do, and not everyone is a great leader, but tell me about the ability for someone to become a good leader. Are you born? Do you make yourself a good leader? Is it a learnable skill? Speak to that for a second.

0:05:40.3 Tim Clark: Right. I'd say maybe there's a premise or two that we could call out at this point. First one is, you can learn to be a good leader. It is a matter of skill and will. And you have control over those two things. So it's not a fixed trait. It's an applied discipline, not a fixed trait. And nurture counts a whole lot more in the equation of leadership than nature. You can choose. I'd also say we need to qualify that when we talk about a leader or leadership in context, we're talking about the ability to lead others. Now, we've said before, Junior, that leadership goes through, there's a linear progression through three domains of leadership. First, you must learn to lead yourself. That's the first domain. And then lead a team and then lead an organization. What we're talking about here primarily is leading the team, leading a group of people, the second domain. And we're not talking about title or position or authority.

0:06:43.6 Tim Clark: Those are artifacts that the organization gives you. So please set that aside. Don't be confused about that. It doesn't mean that you have positional power. So, it doesn't have to do with that. We're talking about primarily the second domain of being able to influence other people, a group of people to create and achieve meaningful goals, which is the essence of leading a team.

0:07:07.8 Junior: I've seen instances where leaders who have appeared to be good at just a very quick glance are horrible and end up being very destructive and disruptive. And some who seem pretty lackluster at a glance have been some of the best and have been some who have had the most potential. So the competitiveness, the longevity of our organizations depends on our ability to identify and develop the potential in those leaders. And it's not easy. We get it wrong all the time. There are a few failure patterns that I think are worth mentioning. First, is that organizations assume that because the person performed well as an individual contributor that they'll perform well as a leader of others. And this is probably failure pattern number one.

0:07:55.1 Junior: We see it time and time again. Organizations make this mistake almost constantly. And it's a pretty easy trap to fall into. And you could see the logic, well, they did well. We want to promote our high performers and pretty soon, you find yourself in leadership. You have not been trained, so on and so forth, and it doesn't go well. You see this failure pattern a lot, right?

0:08:16.9 Tim Clark: We see it all the time, Junior. And I think that the faulty assumption here is that we are kind of closing our eyes to other criteria and other factors. And we're focusing on finding someone with high drive. Now, I don't want to denigrate high drive. High drive is a very important factor, and we need high drive. But what happens is we become blinded, and we ignore other factors, and we are heat-seeking missiles for high drive. Let's go find the person with high drive. And the high drive person will likely be an individual contributor who's doing pretty well. He's getting after it and is showing signs or demonstrating high performance in many ways. That's not wrong, but it just tends to make us blind to other factors.

0:09:09.1 Tim Clark: This obsession with high drive, excluding other factors, is a pattern that we see all the time. There's danger there because, yes, it's necessary, but it's not nearly sufficient to qualify someone to be a good leader to lead other people.

0:09:29.1 Junior: Here are a few more. They assume that if they interview well, they'll perform well. They address only technical performance. They confuse leadership with charisma. In other words, they look at charm, and they forget to look at substance. They assume that time is experience. This is when I see a lot. I've met a lot of leaders who've spent quite a bit of time in an organization but have very little experience, if you will.

0:09:54.9 Tim Clark: Can I say a word on that, Junior?

0:09:57.9 Junior: Please.

0:09:58.0 Tim Clark: This is what we call time in grade. And it becomes a mentality. Not only does it become a mentality, it becomes an entitlement. It's an interesting mentality that pulls in a sense of entitlement that, for example, you've been in your job for a period of time. You're actually entitled to be promoted or you're entitled to a management position or you're entitled to a promotion. It's very interesting to see the connection between the time in grade mentality and an entitlement mentality. They go together. And it's incredibly dangerous because, as you say, the passage of time may mean nothing if you haven't been learning and growing and developing along the way. And so time is not a proxy for performance, but we often think it is, and then we get it mixed up with a sense of entitlement. Now we're in real trouble.

0:11:01.4 Junior: The last one that I'll mention is that we underestimate potential. You might look at someone who's less experienced today and pass, but if they have the character, the disposition, some of the traits we're going to talk about today for leadership, they'll likely learn the other things quickly. And if you're going to err on one side, this is the way that you would want to err, toward character and disposition and away from skill. If you err towards skill and you discount character and disposition, you have a hard time. There are more. There are many failure patterns. There's a list of ten called ten false theories. Is it ten false theories about leadership...

0:11:41.3 Tim Clark: Yeah.

0:11:42.1 Junior: From leading with character and competence. If you want to go look at that, we'll link the book at the bottom. Without further ado, let's get into the five things to look out for that are subtle signs that a person will do well as a leader of others. Number one, they wash the dishes, take out the trash and refill the paper towels. This is one of my favorites because true leaders aren't afraid to do dirty work. Now, notice that we didn't say volunteer to do those things, although that's not necessarily a bad thing. There can be rewards in volunteering itself that we should watch out for.

0:12:19.3 Junior: So if you have a very public setting and you volunteer, that's not, again, necessarily bad. But what we're looking for is these things happening when people aren't watching, when people do these things just to do these things. They don't shy away from things that are unsavory and they recognize that in a world where we eat, there will be dishes that need to be done. It's just part of the human experience. And you don't graduate ever from some of the mundane realities that make you human. You don't just make the intern do it. You roll up your sleeves and you turn on the water. What do you think about this one?

0:13:00.7 Tim Clark: I love this. Junior, this is a mindset. It's connected to how the person, well, if you find someone doing this, how they see themselves and others, if you have that willingness to do menial jobs, you're not caught up in a sense of your own importance. You're not narcissistic. You don't have a superiority complex or a caste mentality. You're not elitist. You don't think of yourself as nobility or an aristocrat. So you may be confident, but it's a modest confidence. So think about your mentality, right? You regard, you respect, you esteem others. That's how you think about others. You see people in context as equals, as people worthy of dignity and respect. So this simple act of taking out the trash communicates volumes about you. And as we always say, Junior, behavior is symptomatic. So if you see someone doing the dishes, taking out the trash, what is it symptomatic of? These things that I just mentioned. I'll just give you one example.

0:14:06.9 Tim Clark: I know someone, and this is a gentleman, this is a friend that I have known for nearly 25 years. If we're together and we're walking somewhere and he sees a piece of trash on the ground, he will pick it up. Now, here's the irony. On the status hierarchy, this gentleman is at the top. He's a world-class surgeon. And yet this is what he does. And he does it. I've seen him do it when no one was around him. I was watching him and he didn't even know I was there. This is how he behaves. Now, my sense is that it has something to do with trait conscientiousness, which is one of the big five personality traits. But as I think about this, it goes beyond a personality trait. It demonstrates situational awareness and it demonstrates caring and concern. Otherwise, why would you do that? Why would you lift your finger to do that? Especially a menial thing that most people wouldn't even want to do. So it says so much. That's what we're saying here, Junior, is this first example, it speaks volumes about what is going on inside your head and your heart, that you would roll up your sleeves and do the dishes. Nobody's asking you.

0:15:33.1 Junior: Well, I like to think about the opposite. Let's say that you're trying to argue your way out of this and say, well, this is an important thing. I don't need to do the dishes. I don't need to take out the trash. I don't need to refill the paper towels. I don't need to go get you a fork. I don't need to pump the gas. I don't need to help lift the package. So what's the argument there that somehow you graduated? I've heard people say, well, my time's too valuable for those things. How long does it take to go put paper towels on the dispenser? 20 seconds. Time is not an argument. Time is not an argument at all. And even if it were, there are these things that help keep us human. And if you can do these things out of an acknowledgement of your own humanity, I think that in and of itself is valuable. Sure, your time might be very valuable. Sure, you may be aiming at perfect efficiency. I get it. But these things are not difficult things to do. They shouldn't be difficult things to do. So think about the opportunities in your own life and profession where you can do the metaphorical dishes, take out the metaphorical trash and refill the metaphorical paper towels.

0:16:48.5 Junior: Sometimes those will be literal opportunities to do those three things literally. Sometimes there are opportunities to do just other things in the same vein that show not just other people, but are reminders to yourself that you're human, that you live in a physical world. And there are certain things that need to be done because you're here. So let's not forget that we do not graduate. There's another example that I saw several years ago. For years, we cleaned our own office. And there was always an employee during a period who did the most difficult or the least attractive jobs. And that stuck with me. He had this attitude of I'd be happy to do it, not a problem. And there was never any whining or shirking or any of that. No, we recognize this is something that needs to get done today. So let's go ahead and knock it out. And that attitude of no job is too small is something that I think we should look for in leaders and potential leaders.

0:17:52.7 Junior: Now, here's another point I want to make. We know that the hierarchy can fight against us. We talk about this all the time. It disrupts the feedback loop. It can stifle creativity and ideation. So here's a question. Which of these two things do you think will be more effective at combating some of the negative consequence of hierarchy? One, declaring that everyone is equal and that I don't think I'm better than you. Or two, doing small menial human tasks for the team? Which one of those two things do you think is going to be more effective? Obviously the second. Don't tell me, show me. So if you see leaders with this attitude, you can rest assured that they understand, at least to some degree, the realities of life and the humility to do what needs to be done, no matter how small the task.

0:18:47.3 Tim Clark: I agree, junior, and it highlights the central principle of leadership. And that is that we lead through our modeling behavior. Not our declarations, not all the rhetoric, but the simple things that we do.

0:19:02.9 Junior: So that's number one. Number two, they acknowledge the efforts of silent contributors. Now, the language in here is important. Acknowledge the efforts of silent contributors. Silent contributors is important. Here's why, taking credit for someone else's work is one of the easiest and least risky things you can do as an aspiring leader. If your sole goal is to appear as if you did the work and to take credit, there's not much risk. Why? Because those who could disagree with you aren't there.

0:19:40.4 Junior: If you're in a meeting of the higher ups and the people who were doing the actual work that you're discussing are not there, it's really easy to just slide in and not even overtly, but through omission, just take some credit. If you see that someone in that scenario makes a concerted effort to acknowledge the contributions of other people, you know a few different things. You know that they understand reality, meaning that they know they can't do everything themselves. They know that other people make valuable contributions that deserve recognition. And you can also learn, you see that their objective is collective achievement. It's not credit. They're more interested in getting the thing done than getting praised for the thing. What do you think about this one.

0:20:34.3 Tim Clark: Junior, I see examples all around us where again, let's think about the leader of a team, where the leader of the team is taking too much credit and too little blame. And there's a pattern. Often there's a pattern. I get too much credit and I take too little blame. That's a problem. It should be just the inverse. So again, so much of this has to do with motivation and intent. I've seen people who not only don't steal credit, but they are anxious and excited to see others get the credit that they deserve. That's how they feel. They get as much joy out of these experiences where others are achieving and accomplishing things as if they had accomplished the thing themselves. It's a sort of vicarious satisfaction, and I do believe that this is the mark of a great leader or a potential leader.

0:21:29.5 Tim Clark: It shows they are able to serve something greater than themselves. Get out of the way. You're supposed to be an enabler. And you should have the psychological capacity to rejoice in the success of your people. So if you're stealing credit when they're not in the room, aren't you a petty thief? That's so small, that's not the sign of an emerging leader. But as you say, Junior, someone who is anxious to acknowledge the efforts of silent contributors who are not in the room, that's a sign. That's a subtle sign that we have someone here who could develop beautifully into a leader.

0:22:16.2 Junior: We also don't want to say that you can't take a compliment or that you can't take any credit. There's a healthy dose of that, and there's pathology at the extremes. We've met people who can't take a compliment to save their lives and we don't want that either. But there's this healthy middle ground. But if we're going to air, let's air on the side of giving credit. And so next time, I think for each of us, there's an invitation when we're in these types of conversations, formal meetings or not, it could be casual conversation with someone. Let's look for opportunities to acknowledge the efforts of silent contributors. Here is a quote from Lao Tzu that I really like. A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves. It speaks to what you were talking about, Tim, that you are an enabler.

0:23:10.5 Junior: You are helping the collaboration along. You're giving credit. You work silently. There's something about that I think is really honorable. So I wanna throw that quote in there. There's an experience that I had years ago, and it was at a time, I mean, everyone has a time when they're not part of "the meetings". And at this point in my career, I didn't have a seat at a particular table. And I learned after the fact that one of my supervisors gave me a shout out in the meeting for something that he easily could have taken credit for. And I remember how I felt, just knowing that, hey, like he cares. That was so impactful to me. And I've had plenty of experiences where the opposite was true, where I learned through the grapevine after the fact that something was taken credit for that I really thought I helped with, and that hurts.

0:24:10.5 Junior: And so those are both very memorable, for better or for worse, when they happen in your favor or not. But I won't forget that particular occasion, it stuck with me because I knew that he didn't have to do that. It was not obligatory. And that's what made it feel so awesome, which was that he chose to give credit and deferred the compliment. Love it.

0:24:40.1 Tim Clark: Junior, you know what? I think the second sign is about they acknowledge the efforts of silent contributors. I think it's really about honesty. It's really what it comes down to. Because on the one hand, if you're stealing credit in any way, that's dishonest. But on the other end of the spectrum, this false modesty is done savory as well. So if you've done something significant, then take the compliment and that's appropriate and it's good, and you should. So we want to avoid really the dishonesty and deception of both ends.

0:25:18.9 Junior: Yeah. And maybe one way to think about this is that most of us wouldn't just take something off the shelf in a retail store and put it in our bag and walk out. So let's think about credit the same way. Don't steal credit in the way that you wouldn't steal a physical item. How about that?

0:25:38.7 Tim Clark: I love that.

0:25:41.4 Junior: Okay, number three. They spend their own money to learn. I keep saying this one is one of my favorites, I think they're all my favorite. [laughter] They're all great.

0:25:49.6 Tim Clark: But this one really is.

0:25:51.7 Junior: This one is my favorite, favorite. Learning agility will characterize the successful leaders of the 21st century, I guess leaders in any century, but we're in this one. So let's say 21st. Why spend their own money? Why? Because they're willing to sacrifice. What does sacrifice mean to forgo immediate gratification for the possibility of something better in the future. In this case, it might be becoming more competent in the future in terms of skill. They don't wait for the organization to push them, and they realize that learning is good for learning's sake. So what does this look like? Books, courses, training, and not just professional, but for hobbies too. I see this all the time. Overall, they're interested in becoming better than they were yesterday. What do you think?

0:26:43.4 Tim Clark: I don't think we can say this enough. I just wanna repeat this sign. I love this so much. They spend their own money to learn. Again, behavior is symptomatic. So if you see someone who is spending their own money to learn, think about all the things that this reflects in that human being. It reveals that they have what I will call, freestanding motivation to get better. Wow. That's exactly what you need as a leader. This person is examining themself, identifying gaps, moving to close the gaps.

0:27:21.4 Tim Clark: This person is not stalled or stuck or sterile. This person is not coasting. This person is not in a state of equilibrium professionally. This person is moving forward under their own power. This person does not wait for the institution to carry them along. This person is not on education welfare. This person is taking responsibility for their own development.

0:27:51.2 Tim Clark: They understand that they have primary stewardship for their own personal and professional development, and no one else does. And you can't delegate that. You can't pawn that off. You can't roll that over to someone else. That is your responsibility. You own that forever and ever. And you can see evidence of that. What's interesting, Junior, is that if you pull a group of people together and you ask them, who has primary stewardship for your development? You or the organization? Every hand in the room will go up and everyone will say, oh, you do, you do. You do. We do. We do. It's our individual responsibility. Okay, fine.

0:28:37.6 Tim Clark: So everyone agrees with the premise, but then go watch their behavior. How many of them are spending their own money to learn? Not all of them. In fact, few of them are. So this pattern really reveals the commitment that a person has to personal and professional development. And it just shows us so much about that person and what they want to do, what they want to become, what aspirations or ambitions they have about reaching their potential, really.

0:29:12.6 Junior: And at the same time, this doesn't absolve the organization from supporting its people and their development, right?

0:29:19.1 Tim Clark: No. No.

0:29:19.2 Junior: Every organization has that responsibility. But the focus here is that the individual is showing initiative, getting out there and becoming better. So as you're looking to identify people who might make it in leadership, this is definitely one thing to look out for. Do they have a masterclass subscription? Are they going to seminar here and there? Do they listen to audio books? Are they going to classes? Are they continuing their formal education? Look for those types of things that they might be doing that are signs, that they take their learning seriously and want to improve.

0:29:55.2 Junior: Number four, they kill the snake when they see the snake. Now, this comes from a Henry Ross Perot quote that I really like. If you see a snake kill it, don't appoint a committee on snakes. [laughter] Now, the leaders of the world, all of us, would be well off putting this into action. We appoint a lot of committees on snakes.

0:30:18.1 Junior: People who kill the snake when they see the snake, they move forward in the absence of complete clarity. They don't wait for meetings and coordination. There is a time and a place for meetings and coordination, but there is a lot that we can do that's inside the scope of our autonomy. That would be good to do. And that's the point. What do you think about this one?

0:30:40.7 Tim Clark: It just needs to get done. This just goes back to initiative.

0:30:45.0 Junior: Just needs to happen.

0:30:46.6 Tim Clark: It just needs to happen. It's about becoming an agent, not an object. Taking ownership, acting under your own power. This is a telltale sign that you're dealing with a potentially outstanding leader. See a need, fill a need. Take the initiative, put yourself in motion, catalyze action. Make it happen. There's so many things, so many small things, even on a daily basis that we just need to go do. You don't need to be told, they're self-evident. And so we just do them. And especially if a need arises unexpectedly, then go take care of it. This is a gauge, this is a measure of initiative and also awareness. Do you see what's going on around you? Are you paying attention? Are you alert? Are you attentive? Are you vigilant? Do you understand how things interact? And then do you understand how you can help in a given situation? So again, look at how much it reveals about the person.

0:31:49.9 Junior: I think it reveals they're leaning toward offense or defense, and whether or not they're going to be proactive or reactive. So let's ask the question, if they saw the proverbial snake didn't kill the snake, do you think that they're more or less likely to be one of your best innovators? They're not gonna be at the front lines doing innovation if they can't take the initiative to solve some small problem that's right in front of their face. Of course not. That's an ignorant expectation. We want people who will play offense. And so there's an example. Case in point, there was an issue with the podcast, another producer, Freddy. It was like transcripts or audio or something. It wasn't catastrophic, just something. And I only learned after the fact that there was an issue. So post resolution. And he's like, oh, well, this thing happened and I went and did this thing, and it was a pretty creative solution from what I recall.

0:32:48.3 Junior: He just went and did it. And sure, there's a time and a place to communicate issues and problems. And there are some that deserve to be taken care of immediately at the discretion of the team members to just go and do the thing. And so we need to be able to distinguish between those two. Like, do we need, hey, all hands on deck. We are red alert and we need everyone's help. And we don't have a solution or an idea yet. We just know there's a big problem. There's a time for that. But what we're talking about is some of the smaller, more manageable things that don't require coordination, that shouldn't require coordination that we can just go out and do. So appropriate action and taking initiative. That's what this one is about.

0:33:31.8 Tim Clark: I just wanna step back and look at this again. So they kill the snake when they see the snake. This is a diagnostic question, and it helps us do pattern recognition for an individual. So if we think of a continuum that runs from passive observation at one end to active participation at the other end, so now we have this continuum, we superimpose that continuum, we overlay that continuum on a person, and we say, what is the pattern of behavior with this person? Do they recognize needs and address needs? Do they catalyze action? What's going on here?

0:34:17.8 Tim Clark: So again, a massively important diagnostic question to help us see potential for leadership, because this is what leadership requires. I don't see too many good leaders that are over here on the side of passive observation. That's not leadership. So this is a very useful tool.

0:34:39.3 Junior: Part of the usefulness of these five things is looking at their opposites and avoiding them. I think that that's something to keep in mind as we go through the list. So when you see the snake don't leave it there and go appoint a committee. That's bad idea.

0:34:55.5 Junior: Number five. They say, I don't know when they don't know. So this is my fifth favorite. Almost nothing is more frustrating to me than talking to a person who pretends to know something they don't know. I don't know if this is just me personally, but this is so frustrating. I know you don't know what a perforing cutter or a veneering hammer is. So don't nod your head as if you used them both yesterday. There is no faster way to look stupid. And we've all been caught in this before, [laughter], myself included, where we go along with some conversation, we're nodding like, oh yeah. And then we're asked a question or something that should be straightforward. We have no earthly idea. You just look dumb.

0:35:36.1 Tim Clark: I don't know what a perforing cutter is, Junior.

0:35:38.4 Junior: Yeah. You don't need to.

0:35:39.0 Tim Clark: Do you?

0:35:40.9 Junior: No. I just looked up niche tools that most people don't know. Those were two that came up. See, I could have said yes. I could have said, yeah, I know exactly what that is. And then you could have asked me, well, what is it? And then I'm out on a limb here. [laughter]

0:35:54.6 Tim Clark: Perfect example.

0:35:55.7 Junior: There you go. So humility is the beginning of wisdom. John Wooden said, humility is the soil from which all other virtues grow, pretty profound for basketball coach. I really like that. And there's a Ben Franklin quote that's really similar to that about humility being a fundamental virtue. That's prerequisite for almost any other virtue. Why? It's because it's this acknowledgement of reality. It's this acknowledgement of a gap. If you can't admit that you're not omnipotent, you have no business in leadership. There's another quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said, "A great man is always willing to belittle." So there's this aura of humility that should surround a leader and an aura of humility that surrounds some of the best leaders that I've ever met. So back to that gap. There will always be space between who you are and who you could be and acknowledging the gap and then working to reduce the gap. That's the quest. That's the quest of our entire personal and professional life. But if you can never acknowledge the gap, you can never even start. You can make no progress until you acknowledge that there's some ground to make up.

0:37:08.2 Tim Clark: Well, it's sad Junior, when people can't say they don't know, when they really don't know. And obviously that comes from a place of insecurity, but it just gets worse. There are compounding effects if you say you don't know or you say you, you can't say you don't know. I think much of it comes from being socialized into an imperialist model of leadership where you've been told you've been acculturated, you've been taught to believe that you are the repository of all answers. You're the expert. You need to know the answer. Come to me, I will give you the answer. And dispatch you. There's a lot of power in that paradigm in the socialization that's been around for a long time. And so we often subscribe to that and we get ourselves in trouble instead of just stopping and saying, I don't know, but let's find out together.

0:38:08.2 Tim Clark: You've seen this. I've seen this. This is what needs to happen. So that humility that you talked about is an unresented acknowledgement that you don't know everything and you need help. You're dependent, even as a leader, perhaps more, especially as a leader, your job is to harness the collective intelligence of the team, to draw people out, to be a fellow traveler with them, to learn together. So we often talk about earning our living. How about learning our living? Maybe think in those terms. I don't know, is a beautiful thing to say. We shouldn't be afraid of that.

0:38:51.0 Junior: The words fellow traveler, for whatever reason, always connected with me. It says so much, because I know you're human. I hope you know you're human and let's just be human together and let's walk down the path together. Thomas Merton said, "Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real." I like that quote because pride leads to that artificiality that people don't like. We don't like that. We know we don't like that. If you've ever experienced, which we probably have probably in the last couple days, interaction that felt artificial, there's probably some pride there on one of the sides or both. And the times where you can really connect and get something out of a conversation or an interaction is probably dictated by humility and the acknowledgement that we're both human. We're both going through this together. So if you want to appear real to your people, just be real. There's nothing about the appearance that you need to worry too much about other than just being authentic. Be yourself. Be real, be humble. Acknowledge that you're human.

0:39:58.1 Tim Clark: I still think I see two motivations that underlie this pattern, Junior. One is the arrogance, the hubris, the pride, the conceit, okay? It's a huge affectation to never say, I don't know. But the other motivation is that you maybe don't want to disappoint someone. I remember traveling to a country, and I won't name the country, and people told me, if you ever get lost, please understand that if you ask someone how to find a place, they will always tell you even if they don't know. [laughter] So it's just the way they are. They don't want to disappoint you. They don't want to look foolish. And so they will give you directions, even though they don't know where the place might be.

0:40:52.6 Junior: They give you direction to somewhere.

0:40:54.5 Tim Clark: Somewhere. Yeah. So I kind of see that as a little bit of a different motive. I mean, they want to save face. They want to be helpful, even though they're telling you to go somewhere they don't know how to get there. But anyway, I think we get the point. Yeah.

0:41:12.3 Junior: Okay, so that's number five. They say, I don't know when they don't know. So we've made it through our list of five, and these are five subtle signs someone will make it in leadership. Tim, which of these struck a chord with you today? Any light bulbs for you or things that stood out?

0:41:31.6 Tim Clark: Well, I love all five, but I have to say number one, I absolutely love, they're just gonna go wash the dishes. I think that that says so much, and I think it's connected to the other four in a lot of ways. They're just gonna go, if they see a need, they're gonna go fill that need. They're going to roll up their sleeves and they're gonna get the dishes done. That's kind of a standby for me.

0:41:58.1 Junior: Yeah, I think there are a lot of reminders for me throughout the discussion, acknowledging the efforts of silent contributors. That's something that I can do better. They spend their own money to learn. Am I really taking responsibility for my own learning? I think each one of these five is an invitation to go and do these things. If we're not exemplifying these five subtle signs, let's. Let's do that and keep an eye out for these five subtle signs as you look at those around you. And please consider them as you are evaluating people to hire and to promote. There are ways that you can turn each five of these subtle signs into a behavioral interview question.

0:42:41.8 Junior: So think about some of those opportunities, how you might introduce an angle here or there in your screening process. That has to do with some of the traits that underlie these five subtle signs. We have a lot more subtle signs. We have a big list. So if you're interested in hearing more subtle signs, let us know. Maybe we'll do another episode. Maybe we'll put together a piece of social content and get those out to you because some of the team have some really good ideas as well. So thank you everyone for your time today. Tim, any final thoughts?

0:43:16.8 Tim Clark: I would just say, it goes back to behavior symptomatic, and we've offered five subtle signs that these behaviors are symptomatic of leadership potential.

0:43:28.4 Junior: With that, we will invite you to leave us a review and a like if you found value in today's episode, and share it with a friend. As always, we appreciate your listenership very much. Take care everyone. We will see you next episode.


0:43:48.6 Junior: Hey, Culture by Design listeners, this is the end of today's episode. You can find all the important links from today's episode at leaderfactor.com/podcast. And if you've found today's episode helpful and useful in any way, please share with a friend and leave a review. If you'd like to learn more about Leader Factor and what we do, then please visit us at leaderfactor.com.

0:44:10.2 Junior: Lastly, if you'd like to give any feedback to the Culture by Design podcast or even request a topic from Tim and Junior, then reach out to us at info@leaderfactor.com or find and tag us on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening and making culture something you do by design, not by default.


Show Notes

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Episode Transcript

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

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How to customize formatting for each rich text

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