I don’t care if you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a small-business owner or a manager or supervisor — you are only as good as the people around you. In other words, it’s important to surround yourself with success-oriented people.

When hiring, always try to pick future leaders. They may not be easy to recognize, but they are critical to an organization that wants to be innovative and entrepreneurial. Here’s a list of factors that can help you identify and develop potential leaders on your staff:

• Collaboration. Look for employees who communicate well, delegate effectively and build strong personal relationships with their co-workers, managers and customers. They are committed to their own personal success, of course, but they are also dedicated to helping other people.

• Self-determination. Entrepreneurial employees value their freedom and autonomy. They like being their own boss as much as possible, if they are doing something they enjoy. Allow employees to make their own decisions, as long as they are moving firmly toward your organization’s objectives.

• Planning skills. You want employees who look beyond today’s tasks, who can focus on the long term as well as the short. They are good at strategizing and weighing options, and at making decisions that minimize risk and maximize opportunity.

• Curiosity. Most great ideas start with simple questions: “What if I did this? Why does that happen?” Listen to employees’ questions to spot those who are interested in solving problems and learning more about how things work.

• Comfort with technology. Every good leader or potential leader stays on top of the tools that can mean success or failure. He or she isn’t afraid to use whatever’s available — as long as it works.

• Drive for action. Focus on employees who take initiative without waiting until conditions are perfect. They like to try things quickly, experiment and then move on to the next challenge. They are also not discouraged by setbacks.

Those are traits that employees bring to the job. Now it’s up to you to help them develop the skills that will enable them to use those traits most effectively.

First and foremost, you need to be a role model. People will learn much more from your actions than from anything you say. If you want to be an effective manager, you must be comfortable knowing that your employees might be smarter or more tech-savvy than you, or have new ways of doing business. Try to remember your early career and what you did to prove yourself. Give them enough latitude to develop their own style, but be ready to offer a guiding hand when necessary.

Teach the importance of networking. Learning how to make contacts is a necessary skill for every leader. Stress the importance of both internal and external networks. I frequently preach, “If I had to name the single characteristic shared by all the truly successful people I’ve met over a lifetime, I’d say it is the ability to create and nurture a network of contacts.”

Share the value of perspective. Maintaining an even keel in good and bad times prevents the temptation to jump to rash conclusions when a challenge arises, or conversely, when you have had the biggest success of your career. Emotions have a place, but not in business decisions. As I like to say, “Make decisions with your heart and you will end up with heart disease.”

Insist on respect: for authority, for co-workers and for yourself. Good leaders treat people like people, not property. Successful leaders won’t stoop to doing deeds that go against their principles just to make a buck. Good leaders have standards that cannot be compromised, because that would destroy their self-respect.

Remind employees constantly: Cream doesn’t rise to the top; it works its way up. There is no substitute for hard work. When employees see you working harder than they do, you are reinforcing that a dedicated work ethic is a necessary characteristic of a good leader.

Instill confidence. Give credit where it is due. Encourage employees to take charge of projects that will allow them to take appropriate risks and take responsibility for outcomes.

Make sure they understand responsibility. As writer Max DePree puts it: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. ... A friend of mine characterized leaders simply like this: ‘Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.’ ”

Mackay’s Moral: If you want to grow tomorrow’s leaders, plant seeds of wisdom today.


Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.