What to look for when promoting employees: Signs of a leader

October 18, 2022 Christina DeBusk

Shot of a mature businessman shaking hands with a colleague in a modern office

Promoting from within offers many benefits. One is that it can save you money by not having to find, hire, onboard, and train an external candidate.

Promoting internally can also be motivating to your employees when they know that their hard work may be rewarded with a move into a higher or more advanced position.

The question is: How do you know which employees to promote? While someone may be a good worker in their current role, what would tell you that they would be a good leader? Here are a few signs to look for that could indicate that the employee you’re considering may do well in a leadership position.

They consider their work more than “just a job”

Any employee can show up at the beginning of their shift, do their job, then punch out at the end of the day. An employee with leadership qualities understands the big picture of what they do. They look at their work with meaning and purpose, and they’re more engaged. Harvard Business Review indicates that higher engagement rates have been linked to lower turnover rates, improved quality of work, fewer safety incidents, and less time off.

They’re self-motivated

Some employees do what they’re told, and no more. Others take the initiative to find ways to do things faster, with greater efficiency, or otherwise better than how they’re being done now. Having a leader who is self-motivated means that they’re likely willing to go the extra mile if it will benefit the company as a whole.

They have the ability to focus

We all know that one employee who seems to be distracted by even the tiniest of things. This could be an issue if they’re placed in a leadership position since they’re likely to be responsible for tasks that require a lot of focus—such as compiling a budget, working out a staff schedule or creating an important report. The Society for Human Resource Management adds that the ability to keep workplace distractions to a minimum also boosts productivity.

They don’t get majorly discouraged when things don’t go right

Part of being a leader is dealing with the hiccups that often appear during the workday. A good leader doesn’t let these hiccups discourage them to the point where they throw their hands in the air and give up. Instead, they view them as opportunities to find new ways to do things. 

They’re good communicators

If you’ve ever been on a team where communication from the top has been lacking, you know how important this one skill is. Not only does a leader need to be able to talk intelligently and with articulation, they must also know how to communicate in a way that others feel respected and heard. This requires knowing when to listen as much as knowing when to speak.

They’re motivating to others

Any job can feel monotonous from time to time. Or you may feel frustrated for personal reasons, causing you to be down when on the clock. A good leader can help pull employees out of whatever funk they’re in. Look for the one employee that all other employees turn to when they need a pick me up. That person may have the motivational qualities needed to compel your entire team to new levels.

They know how to multitask

It’s not uncommon for leaders to be pulled in several directions at the same time. They might have an issue going on in one area, only to be approached about a problem brewing in another. Or they may have to switch gears quickly, such as working on administrative duties one minute and dealing with operations the next. This requires a fair level of multitasking, making it another quality to look for in an employee when you’re deciding who to promote.

They are interested in a promotion

You can have an employee who would make a great leader, but if they aren’t interested in the promotion or it isn’t the right move for them, putting them in this role could hurt them and the company both. To keep this from happening, take the time to talk to them and make sure they understand what the promotion entails. Ask if they want the added responsibilities. If they don’t, look for someone else. This can keep you from putting them in that role anyway, then having them quit because they’re now unhappy in what they do.

It isn’t always easy to choose which employees to promote. Looking for these qualities can help you decide who may be a good fit for the open leadership role, and who may be better off staying where they are.

Want more recruiting and hiring tips? Check out our content library. 

About the Author

Christina M. DeBusk creates small business content for a variety of publications, some of which include Businessing Magazine, Compendent, Chiropractic Economics, and more. She is also the author behind the column, "The Successful Solopreneur.

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