How to Identify and Develop Employees with High Talent

Companies often struggle to find their future leaders. How do you identify those who have or can develop the right skills to tackle your team’s toughest problems?

In uncertain situations, we usually focus on what we know: looking for employees who met their performance goals. This approach works well for familiar positions where candidates have demonstrated the required abilities.

However, past performance doesn’t always predict success in new tasks. It’s also challenging to identify high-potential employees early in their careers based on past achievements. Consultants at ghSMART created a model for predicting leadership potential using observable behaviors instead of achievements. They studied 1,500 people, from entry-level to senior executives, analyzing more than 23,000 candidate assessments. They identified three psychological traits predicting people’s ability to grow and adapt:

  1. Cognitive Quotient (CQ): How they use their intellect.
  2. Drive Quotient (DQ): What inspires them and how they use their energy.
  3. Emotional Quotient (EQ): How well they relate to others.

These traits show how people apply skills at work. Let’s explore the indicative behaviors in each area — both common and higher-level differentiators indicating future leadership potential.

Cognitive Quotient (CQ):
Many value intellectual capacity, often measured through academic transcripts. However, this approach can be biased. To assess CQ, look for advanced behaviors like considering tasks from a higher-up’s perspective, anticipating the unexpected, and thinking about how decisions add value to the company.

Drive Quotient (DQ):
Drive isn’t just about perseverance; it’s also about using energy to improve performance and develop others. High DQ individuals challenge themselves, embrace new challenges, regroup after setbacks, and constantly strive for personal and organizational growth.

Emotional Quotient (EQ):
While companies recognize the importance of emotional intelligence, it’s not just about basics like self-awareness and interpersonal skills. EQ is demonstrated by those who intentionally use insights to influence and negotiate outcomes, and by those who convey difficult lessons with courage and sensitivity.

To identify and develop potential leaders:

  • Train managers to recognize and develop CQ, DQ, and EQ.
  • Encourage employees to attend meetings with top management to develop strategic thinking (CQ).
  • Provide tasks requiring interaction with various business parts to help employees connect dots across the enterprise (CQ).
  • Implement stretch changes that test people in new ways to build DQ.
  • Rotate aspiring leaders into different company areas and observe how they adapt (DQ).
  • Start with company culture to help high potentials develop EQ. Assign them relationship-building responsibilities with key stakeholders (EQ).

Each skill — CQ, DQ, and EQ — is valuable, and combining them helps you identify and nurture the next-generation leaders needed to face unknown challenges. It also broadens your leadership pool more than you might have realized.

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