Finding Future Leaders Within Your People

Hold back the tears because, at some point, you will have to pass on the leadership role to someone else. In our world, we call these people Trending Leaders. But don’t worry; it’s easier than choosing what to watch on Netflix each night. The process of finding, picking, and training these people happens long before the actual transition.

In this post, I will explain what a trending leader is, how to identify one, and how to cultivate their leadership skills so that they can join your executive team or maybe even succeed you.

Those of you who know us know that we are well-known for our Dance Floor Theory Leadership program. Dance Floor Theory trains leaders on how to identify and increase member engagement. It’s based on our Engagement Pyramid, which identifies six levels of engagement within any team, organization, or community. As leaders, you are at the top as 4s and 5s, and your least engaged members are down at the bottom as 1s and Neutrals. For this post, however, we will focus on the 2s and 3s because that’s where your Trending Leaders are.

Trending Leaders are usually newish team members who achieve good results and influence their peers, adapt to challenges innovatively, and embody the values that define your culture. These are the folks who, with some encouragement, can go from ‘Who are they?’ to ‘Wow, where have you been all my leadership life?’

Their title usually doesn’t match their talent. This is why, in terms of the Engagement Pyramid, they are your 2s and 3s. They are ready to do the work and have a larger capacity to take on more responsibilities. They might not realize their abilities just yet, but with a little nudge, they will step into more advanced roles.

In fact, how many of you are in your leadership position right now because someone asked you to do it or suggested it to you? Though I can’t actually see you, I guess that 90% of you have your hand raised.

You see, you were once a trending leader, and someone gave you a nudge. Trending Leaders are waiting for you to ask them to step up! So ask them.

But before you can ask them, you have to find them. So where do you find them?

There are four main characteristics of trending leaders. Let’s break down each one…

The Helpers: Champions of Going Above and Beyond

Description: The helpers embody the essence of “playing to win” in every aspect of their role. These are the folks who, if you ask them to bring snacks to the meeting, show up with a gourmet buffet. Job descriptions or departmental boundaries do not confine them; they venture out, offering their skills and enthusiasm wherever needed. Their hallmark is their willingness to volunteer for the most challenging tasks, bringing a blend of excellence and reliability that elevates the entire team’s performance.

How to Spot Them: Look for team members who are always ready to lend a hand or take the lead on challenging projects, from solving crises to rescuing the office plant you’ve been neglecting. They’re the ones whose work consistently exceeds expectations and naturally reach out across departments to offer support. Their knack for delivering timely, high-quality results and their eagerness to take on additional responsibilities make them stand out as true champions of the team’s success.

The Unofficial Captains: Leaders Without Titles

Description: Unofficial Captains are your team’s compass, guiding without formal authority. They are the go-to for advice, support, direction, and when the printer jams… again. Their calm demeanor in the face of challenges and their ability to offer solutions make them a central figure in any team.

How to Spot Them: Pay close attention during team interactions and meetings. These leaders naturally facilitate discussions, offer insightful contributions, and act as a bridge between different members. Their leadership is affirmed by the respect and attention they command from peers, even without an official leadership title.

The Lifelong Learners: Advocates for Growth

Description: Lifelong Learners are the cornerstone of your team’s continuous improvement. They don’t just seek personal development; they’re the torchbearers for collective growth, always hunting for new knowledge, skills, and experiences. Their proactive approach to learning and development sets a powerful example and lays a foundation for the team’s future successes.

How to Spot Them: Observe those who consistently involve themselves in and even initiate new projects, suggest enhancements, and actively seek learning opportunities. Their quest for improvement is infectious, often motivating others to follow in their footsteps and contributing significantly to the team’s evolving capabilities.

The Culture Champions: Trendsetters of Team Spirit

Description: Culture Champions are the heartbeat of your team’s identity. Through their actions and attitudes, they not only embrace but also enrich the organizational culture. Their contributions go beyond tasks; they weave the narrative of excellence and set behavioral standards, making them indispensable trendsetters within the team.

How to Spot Them: Look for individuals whose actions and attitudes exemplify the best of your team’s culture. They celebrate collective achievements and motivate others through their unwavering commitment to the team’s values and goals. Their influence in shaping the team’s ethos is evident in how others mirror their conduct and engagement.

Using these four characteristics, you can identify your trending leaders. Now that you’ve identified them, the next step is to start cultivating them to be future leaders.


Assign each trending leader a mentor from among your seasoned leaders or executives who’ve been around the block, but not in a J-Lo kind of way. This relationship gives them a personal guidebook on navigating challenges and honing their leadership skills. Mentorship bridges the gap between potential and performance by offering personalized advice, sharing experiences, and setting goals. This one-on-one support system accelerates their growth and deeply integrates them into your leadership framework.

Resource Access

Empower your trending leaders with the tools and resources they need to excel. This includes access to professional development courses, leadership workshops, and other material that can expand their knowledge base. By investing in their growth, you’re not just building leaders; you’re nurturing your organization’s future. Ensure they know where to find these resources and encourage them to take full advantage.


Throw down the gauntlet and present your trending leaders with challenges that push them out of their comfort zones. Whether leading a project, presenting in front of the executive team, or solving a complex problem, these challenges will test and refine their abilities. It’s through overcoming these obstacles that they’ll gain confidence and visibility within the organization.


Constructive feedback is the cornerstone of leadership development. Provide your trending leaders with regular, actionable feedback highlighting their strengths and improvement areas. Make this feedback a two-way street, encouraging them to share their thoughts and concerns. This ongoing dialogue fosters a culture of continuous improvement and open communication.


Increase their participation in decision-making processes and strategic planning. Invite them to participate in meetings and discussions typically reserved for higher-level leaders. Give them a seat at the grown-ups’ table. This inclusion values their input and gives them a broader understanding of the organization’s direction and challenges. Their fresh perspectives often lead to innovative solutions and strategies.

By focusing on mentorship, resource access, presenting challenges, offering feedback, and increasing involvement, you’re not just cultivating leaders but ensuring the legacy and continuity of dynamic leadership within your organization.

And there you have it! A whirlwind tour through the process of identifying and nurturing the future leaders hidden among us. Remember, it’s not just about spotting those Trending Leaders; it’s about actively shaping their journey from enthusiastic participants to pivotal leaders.

To quickly recap: Equip them through mentorship, arm them with resources, challenge them to grow, provide constructive feedback, and involve them in critical decisions. This isn’t just about filling leadership slots; it’s about empowering those ready to take the baton and run with it.

So, keep your eyes peeled for The Helpers, Unofficial Captains, Lifelong Learners, and Culture Champions. They’re your organization’s future, waiting for that signal to step into the light.

Let’s not just pass the baton; let’s ensure it’s received with confidence and the readiness to lead. Here’s to the leaders of tomorrow. May your guidance turn their potential into the power that propels your team forward. Onward and upward!

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