Building Bench Strength: Recognizing Leadership Potential in Your Team


Well, the World Series are over and regardless if you are an Indians or Cub fan, one thing you can say about both teams is that they have deep bench strength. They know how to identify talent and develop exceptional players worthy of a World Series ring. But can you say the same about your team? Does your organization have ‘bench strength?’

It’s critical for you to ensure that your team’s lineup has highly skilled players who can step in when another player has moved on. But how do you know who your next MVP will be?

It’s important to understand that leadership exists throughout the organization and within teams–it’s not just tied to a position or title. A true team must acknowledge leadership from various members and recognize those who can assume a greater role within the organization. To start, you need to identify the competence of employees who are ready to fill vacant leadership and other positions. In What Leaders Know and Do, Brent Ruben (2006) describes five broad competencies leaders should possess in order to be successful. They are analytic, personal, communication, organizational, and positional competencies and by recognizing signs that related knowledge, skills, and abilities exist in others can help you develop future leaders for your organization.

So, what are the signs that a team member on your bench is emerging as a star player? Look for these five behaviors demonstrated by individuals:

Initiates Ideas: It’s not enough to recognize that there is a problem, but the emerging leader identifies possible causes and provides creative solutions. He is able to do this because he sees the “big picture” and isn’t constrained because he understands the short and long-term goals of the organization.

Encourages and Coaches Others: By sharing information and resources, she helps pave the way for others to try new approaches and supports those who take risks. Additionally, she applauds other teams members’ contributions and the collective success of the team.

Models Positive Behaviors: This individual not only demonstrates integrity, perseverance, enthusiasm, honesty, and a strong work ethic she also maintains composure and flexibility in the face of change and uncertainty. In public sector organizations, the ability to remain positive in difficult times is a key attribute of strong leadership.

Communicates Effectively: Beyond effective verbal and writing skills, you see that the team member is also comfortable interacting with those from various backgrounds. He listens well and is attentive to those sharing ideas and perspectives in both group and one-on-one situations.

Sees the “Line of Sight’: A strong player will know how her position can help the team succeed. Seeing the ‘line of sight’ between her position and team goals demonstrates a clear understanding of the organization and the public sector. Understanding the issues, challenges, and opportunities within an organization and the sector in which it exists is critical for visionary leadership.

If a member of your team is demonstrating these characteristics, it’s time to pull him out of the bullpen and into the limelight. Look for opportunities for him to take a lead role on a project or perhaps identify an opportunity for advancement within the organization. By not grooming these leaders can result in a future MVP getting picked up by another team.

Tricia S. Nolfi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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richard regan

The Cleveland Indians have certainly created a deep bench when it comes to perpetuating the narrative that it is OK to objectify a group of human beings like American Indians through offensive sports mascots. They initiated the idea that there is nothing wrong with misappropriating cultural symbols of Native people. The institutionalization of their ugly mascot encourages their fans and supporters to carry on this non-inclusive message. They have modeled this allegedly positive behavior so consistently that this repulsive symbol of their mascot is firmly embedded into their organizational culture and climate. They have communicated it so effectively that their partner in crime, Major League Baseball, a so-called bastion of inclusiveness, thinks their nothing wrong with Chief Wahoo. They have created a long line of sight to the point that this unchanging behavior is so normalized in sports that it will never be challenged. I am sorry but this is not the kind of team I want to be a member of.