A few weeks ago I wrote a post defining leadership as the ability to both determine the best solution to a problem and then successfully implementing it. These are two totally separate abilities. One without the other is half a leader. One half is someone who talks a good game but doesn’t deliver the results. The other half is someone who is too structured to deliver anything other than what’s already been delivered. In the post I described the Anchor and Visualize questioning pattern as a means to assess leadership for any type of job.

Assessing potential to deliver bigger and better solutions is a little more complex but it can be done by using the same two questions with a bit of a twist. Here’s how:

  1. Determine the depth and breadth of the candidate’s thinking process by making the problems more complex. The idea is to determine the point when the person’s thinking skills go from specific to general.
  2. Evaluate the complexity of the person’s past achievements and decision-making process. If the bigger role is comparable on these factors, it’s likely the person will be successful as long as his or her organizational and project management skills are strong.
  3. Determine the rate of growth of the person’s past accomplishments. If the person’s track record shows increasing scope, scale and impact it’s likely the person will remain on the same trend line.
  4. Separate the person’s true confidence in handling bigger challenges from false bravado. People who have successfully handled stretch roles and have been tested under fire typically can handle similar stretch roles.

(As a side note, you might want to try out the same approach for POTUS contenders.)

I’ve been successfully using this concept to assess job candidates for the past 25 years as a means to predict their performance in new roles, many of them bigger, and all of them different. The process starts by getting the hiring manager to define the work that needs to be done as a series of performance objectives rather than skills and experiences. During the interview I describe the tasks that need to be done and then have the candidates describe a comparable accomplishment for each one. With all of the fact-finding involved, it usually takes 15-20 minutes to fully understand and compare the accomplishments.

I then ask how the person would address a job-related problem and get into a back-and-forth discussion. The purpose of this approach is to understand the person’s approach to figuring out a solution, not the answer itself. To assess the thinking component of potential I make the problem a little more complex watching for the point when the candidate’s thinking goes from specific to general.

For example, for a manufacturing engineer I asked a candidate to describe what he would need to do to automate a complete line even though the open spot was just to add robotics to individual work centers. The candidate clearly understood the implication of tying all of the processes together and the technical challenges involved even though he had never done anything like this before. I then asked how he’d tie in the material flow into the process in order to optimize overall plant performance. This is where he started to ramble. Based on this, I concluded he had some immediate upside but was not quite ready to handle functions outside of his current expertise.

Over the years I’ve discovered that predicted success increases when the person has both the ability to visualize a problem and has executed something comparable in terms of scope, scale and complexity. For entry-level positions a series of smaller accomplishments is a good substitute.

To predict potential I add the person’s rate of progression and flexibility into the equation. If the scope, scale, span of control and impact of the accomplishments are increasing over time it’s likely they’ll continue to increase at a similar rate. Flexibility can be assessed by determining if these accomplishments were on different projects, with different people, using different technologies, at different companies and in different industries. The broader these are the better.

The anchor and visualizing questioning pattern is a great means for assessing leadership for any job. By making the problems more complex and examining the rate of change of the person’s accomplishments you’ll be able to accurately assess potential. Of course, when you find someone who’s both a strong leader and has the potential to grow, hire the person. That's how you build great teams and great companies. That's what leaders do.