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Why Qualified People Are Hesitant to Lead

Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders are made. They are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” It’s difficult to argue against one of the most successful NFL coaches in history, especially when research supports his claim.

Research shows only about 30% of leadership is genetic, while 70% results from life lessons and experience. Many excellent and capable employees are hesitant to assume leadership roles. Below are some of the reasons why and a few things that can help organizations identify and develop potential leaders.

Recognize Promising Employees

The first step in getting more qualified people to lead is identifying leadership potential. Then, there’s a fine line between encouraging employees to become leaders and forcing them into positions they are not comfortable with. It’s also important to remember that just because an employee has significant knowledge and on-the-job experience doesn’t automatically mean that they have an innate sense of leadership.

When recognizing potential leaders, start by looking for employees who show an eagerness to learn in their current roles. People who hold themselves accountable for successes and failures usually make good leaders too. Potential leaders will have a history of staying calm amidst challenges and bringing solutions to the table during those times.

Understanding Perceived Leadership Risks 

Recent studies have indicated some of the main reasons why qualified people are hesitant to lead. The degree of interpersonal risk associated with being a leader scares employees. Employees fear that they may have to compromise their interpersonal relationships with colleagues if they chose to become leaders. Others are reluctant to become leaders because they don’t want to be seen differently. In addition, some people are afraid of taking the blame for failure. Fortunately, there are some practical ways to help people overcome these risks and still become strong leaders.

Mitigating the Risks

Many potential leaders in your organization may see leadership as risky. We can help people overcome these additional challenges by including them in significant projects and commending them for their leadership contributions in company newsletters, social media channels, and boardroom meetings. Lastly, career consequences tend to hold people back from leadership opportunities. If you can provide high-potential people with safer environments to maintain their credibility, more of them will be willing to advance their careers.

Since most people aren’t born leaders and may be reluctant to take on new responsibilities, companies have to be proactive in identifying those promising employees and focusing on their development.


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