Identifying Leadership Talent

Updated: Aug 7

Each spring, school districts examine their list of internal candidates hoping to determine who is ready to be elevated into a leadership position.

Looking for one idea to help determine who may be ready for a bigger leadership role?


Consider the success employees have had leading volunteer groups.

Many aspiring administrators often find themselves leading groups of individuals who commit time and energy without anything in return. Staff committees, parent organizations, and community advisory boards are all prime examples.


Natural leaders thrive with these groups. They build their numbers. They create excitement. They generate action. All while volunteers receive nothing tangible in return.


Beyond adult groups, the best indicator of leadership ability is coaching.


Think of what coaches ask kids to do:


Cross country runners run several miles in the summer heat.

Marching band members arrive at the field before the sun rises.

Football players practice several hours a day in full pads.

Play participants practice into the wee hours of the night.


Forget kids. How many adults would willingly agree to those terms without a tangible reward?


In an era when teenagers crave immediate gratification, coaches must find ways to motivate students to show up with nothing promised in return.


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During my second year of teaching I was asked to be the varsity coach of the boys and girls cross country teams. In a high school with 2,300 students. With no assistant coach.


While this sounds crazy, keep in mind I was teaching in Florida where football and baseball are king and it is 90 degrees 8 months of the year.


In other words, running cross country is low on most students' priority lists.


When I took over the team, we had 10 kids out. Total. For both teams.


When I left two years later we had over 30 runners.


Although at the time I had no intentions of being a school administrator, I exhibited a leadership quality that forecasted future success: I convinced students to do something few others would do.


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When we think of great leaders, we often think of business leaders.


Don't get me wrong, there are many outstanding business leaders in our world today. But you know what business leaders also have? Leverage. Leverage in the form of salary, benefits, and bonuses. I know many people who will gladly be a follower when money is at stake.

Volunteer group leaders do not have the luxury of compensating their followers. Rather, they must engage others with influence. A person with great influence will get many volunteers to attend meetings and inspire others to follow his or her mission.

In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell suggests, “Followers in voluntary organizations cannot be forced to get on board. If the leader has no influence with them, then they won't follow. To find your best leaders, see who can get people to follow them when they have no leverage - when they have to recruit volunteers. That is the mark of true leadership ability.”

When identifying leadership talent within your district, don't look too far. Consider employees who are already effectively leading students, staff, and parents.


Those who build a following when nothing is at stake could be ideal candidates for vacant administrative positions.

Looking for a great book about identifying educational leadership talent? Consider reading What Great Principals do Differently by Todd Whitaker.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.