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How To Find And Utilize Your Organization's Hidden Leaders

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When we think of leaders, we often think of strong Type-A personalities that can motivate change and lead with a commanding presence. What is overlooked however, is the behind the scene players that are often taking on valuable leadership responsibilities without the spotlight or recognition. While many organizations look for these strong type-A's to fill their management and executive roles, they're ignoring how other personalities are contributing to the growth and success of an organization. After all, it's these hidden leaders that are a driving force for accomplishments at the front lines of your business.

Last year, Scott K. Edinger and Laurie Sain published a book entitled The Hidden Leader, which speaks to this concept of spotting leaders within your organization beyond the traditional executive team. They list four key traits in a leader: demonstrating integrity, leading through relationships, focusing on results and remaining customer focused. In a collaboration heavy organization such as ours, we find the ability to lead through relationships to be critical -- it's one of the first traits we look at whether hiring externally or promoting from within. This trait allows the hidden leader to build trust with a strong base of people that are on board with their ideas and are willing to help.

When looking at your own organization, there are three key steps that will help you find, support and recognize these hidden leaders.


Looking beyond the more obvious traits of a 'leader' will be the first stepping-stone to harnessing these hidden leaders. Just because a job title may list someone as an account manager or an executive assistant, doesn't mean they don't have natural talents beyond those responsibilities. Hidden leaders have an integrity that shows in the ability to consistently adhere to a strong ethical code, even in difficult situations.

Some behaviours to look for include the ability to be careful when making promises that will be hard to fulfill, and once made they will keep those commitments. They will adhere to a strong personal ethics code, and act in accordance with company values. They can understand both sides of an issue, and will speak up when integrity related issues appear, even when they may not be popular.

Keep an open mind when talking with your employees to get an understanding of how they view the company and where additional opportunities may exist; you could be surprised about what you find.


It's important to be able to provide the tools for employees to build relationships and collaborate on ideas. Candid conversations go a long way towards building a trusting work environment and increasing employee moral. One way to facilitate these conversations is to encourage your thought leaders to share their knowledge and passion through internal communications, like a social intranet. By offering opportunities for leaders to share ideas and receive feedback, it involves the entire organization and makes everyone feel more valued and engaged with big picture goals.

Even if you can't provide opportunities for multiple leadership roles within your organization, by giving those interested the chance to manage a project or lead a small task, you're providing the experience in a "safe fail" environment they can use to learn the skills they need to lead in the future. This is also an opportunity to see which employees have the skills and desire to be leaders.


Lastly, celebrate the accomplishments being made by sharing stories and recognizing individual contributions. Recognition goes a long way in developing long-term results. If an employee has taken steps championing your organization and taking more of a leadership role, appropriately recognizing that added initiative will maintain that positive trajectory. There are many creative ways to recognize initiative, from shout-outs, thank-you cards and small gifts, to job promotions and salary increase.

Taking the extra effort to find those in your organization who are capable of assuming a leadership role will not only increase employee engagement but also foster a stronger corporate culture benefiting the company as a whole.

Darren Gibbons is the co-creator of ThoughtFarmer, a social intranet software provider founded in 2006 and based in Vancouver, B.C.

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