Identifying Potential Influencers

Identifying Potential Influencers: A Practical Guide

We all want more leaders and influencers to help our organization be successful. (That is, unless you are a control-freak and feel threatened by any emerging influencer.)

With this goal in mind, we prescribe how to identify the high-capacity influencers in your organization that need your investment to develop their potential.

What Are Practical Ways to Identify a High-Capacity Influencer?

Reverse Engineer

One way of determining the criteria for selecting future influencers and leaders is to examine the most successful leaders and influencers you already have in your company. Use the Keller Influence Indicator® to assess their highest traits in predicting if they have the foundation for being a front line influencer.

Through reverse engineering, you can analyze the characteristics and behaviors that set these individuals apart.  This allows you to back into a better understanding of the specific qualities you should seek.

Lean on Existing Research

In a recent study by Forbes, key indicators of potential leaders were identified across the board, regardless of industry. Observe if these fit your context, and then use them as guidelines for selecting high-capacity influencers in whom you should invest. I’ve also included the traits from the Seven Influence Traits™ as measured by the Keller Influence Indicator (KII®) that most align with the Forbes results.

  1. Strategic Perspective, Direction and Clarity. The competency that often stood out by a large margin was the influencer’s/leader’s ability to keep a strategic perspective.  This appears to be the competency that most differentiates those executives who ultimately rise to the most senior positions. This was sometimes described as the ability to develop winning strategies. This must be undergirded by both the passion and confidence influence traits. 
  2. Inspires and Motivates to High Performance.  The second competency is the ability to be inspiring and motivating to those around you. This is reflected in the candidates empowerment score on the KII assessment.
  3. Focus on Results.  Highly promotable leaders show the ability to produce excellent results. This is reflected to a degree in the commitment score on the KII, where there is a tenacious focus on achieving goals.
  4. Collaboration and Teamwork.  The world has moved from a culture of fierce competition and rivalry to greater emphasis on collaboration and teamwork, especially within firms. This ability is measured as a combination of empowerment with a solid degree of likability traits present with the individual charged with leading the team.  
  5. High Ethical Standards, Upholding Values, Acting as Role Model. This quality of being perceived as a person of extremely high moral character, one who upholds corporate values and displays high ethical standards, continues to be a key for those who are considered good candidates for higher levels in the organization. Look at the trustworthiness score of a potential high-capacity influencer on the KII®.
  6. Deep Expertise and Business Acumen. Strong potential leaders had a deep understanding of how the business works, and the technical issues that are fundamental to success. Others seek out their opinions and knowledge. It would be very difficult to hire someone from outside the business with this level of knowledge and expertise. One must have the confidence that they possess this knowledge in order to share it effectively.
  7. Champion Change. Highly promotable leaders have the courage to make changes that improve the organization. They embrace change instead of resisting it.
  8. Willingness to Innovate and Take Risks. Leaders are more willing to take calculated risks and to encourage others to innovate. This is measured as the courage  trait in the KII® assessment.
  9. Powerful Communication. A skill that seems essential to those in high-level influence positions is the ability to powerfully communicate with others. When they speak, others listen and take action.
  10. Develops Others. Strong potential leaders are effective at developing talent in the organization. These leaders take the time and have the desire to develop others. They provide excellent feedback and coaching to others. In the KII®, this ability is represented by one’s score on the empowerment trait.

When we stack Forbes findings on DDI’s research, which has identified 10 high-potential factors, we get a more complete picture:

  1. Propensity to Lead
  2. Brings Out the Best in Others
  3. Authenticity
  4. Receptivity to Feedback
  5. Learning Agility
  6. Culture Fit
  7. Passion for Results
  8. Adaptability
  9. Conceptual Thinking
  10. Navigates Ambiguity

The potential high-capacity influencer must first confirm a solid track record of past performance, but these factors need to be in place before an accelerated development program is launched for an individual.

In general, any listing of characteristics of a high-capacity influencer fall under three main headings:

  • Motivation
  • Learning orientation
  • Propensity to deal with the increasingly ambiguous, complex, and dynamic nature of strategic roles versus their current role.

Ensure Managers are Looking For High-Capacity Individuals

Often an influence assessment will be a sub-component of a year-end review or similar exercise. Because it is merely a component, potential high-capacity leaders might not be presented for enrollment into an influence development program. Make sure that there is a clear process for managers to flag high-capacity influencers and for that information to get to the right person for specific assessment on influence aptitudes and abilities. Create focus in larger organizations by having clear directions for evaluating and nominating high potential influencers, accurate definitions to guide discussion and decision making, and standardized ratings for the senior managers involved in the talent review.

Don’t Only Consider Past Performance

Past performance is a prerequisite into a high-capacity influencer development program, but it is not the entry card. As influence and position increases, roles will change and performance in one role may not equal success in a new role. Since new and different challenges lie ahead for high-potentials, it is critical to differentiate and evaluate readiness for a greater role. How well do they adapt to new environments and roles? An expert widget maker that is moved into management will be called upon to perform much different tasks in his or her new position.

Ask The Right Questions in Evaluating

In his book, Know How, Ram Charin provides 11 key questions to ask when evaluating a potential influencer:

  1. Do they consistently deliver ambitious results?
  2. Do they continuously demonstrate growth, adaptability, and learning better and faster than their excellently performing peers?
  3. Do they seize the opportunity for challenging, bigger assignments, thereby expanding capability and capacity and improving judgment?
  4. Do they have the ability to think through the business and take leaps of imagination to grow the business?
  5. Are they driven to take things to the next level?
  6. Do they possess the powers of acute observation, forming judgments of people by focusing on their decisions, behaviors, and actions, rather than relying on initial reactions and gut instincts? Can they mentally detect and construct the “DNA” of a potential leader themselves?
  7. Do they come to the point succinctly, are clear thinkers, and have the courage to state a point-of-view even though listeners may react adversely?
  8. Do they ask incisive questions that opens minds and incites the imagination?
  9. Do they perceptively judge their own direct reports, have the courage to give them honest feedback so the direct reports grow; do they dig into cause and effect if a direct report is failing?
  10. Do they know the non-negotiable criteria of the job of their direct reports and match the job with the person,or if there is a mismatch, they deal with it promptly?
  11. Are they are able to spot talent and see the “God’s gift” of other individuals?

Evaluate Your Influence Evaluation Process

Once you have identified, selected and invested in a potential high-capacity influencer, do a post-operative evaluation of your process itself.

Repeatedly practice making judgments of other people and reflect on what you might have missed in some cases.

  1. Did the individual have the potential you saw in them?
  2. What did you overlook that caused them to be a hit or a miss?
  3. Was something that was overlooked a misjudgment of the individual based upon given criteria? Or was it an element missing from the actual criteria that needs to be added?
  4. How good are your judgment abilities compared to other’s judgments on the same individual?

51% of Your Job

Remember that 51+% of your job is to develop future influencers and leaders that can continue your legacy once you are gone. This is true regardless of the level in which you serve an organization. So be about assessing and investing in potential leaders and influencers, and you’ll be helping your organization and yourself in the long run.

The KII® is a powerful assessment tool providing you a dynamic yet concrete measure of a team member’s current influence potential as seen in the Seven Influence Traits. Add the KII® as a foundational piece of growing and developing potential high capacity influencers.


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina