Identifying Trending Leaders and Laying Tracks for Motivated Trains

While walking around Central Park in NYC, I watched a little league softball game on the field next to me. Surrounding the field was a collection of parents multitasking between the game, their phones, and watching their younger kids. One parent in particular was having a hard time keeping her little one under control.

Her kid kept racing up and down the sidelines while mimicking a train. The child put his hand in the air, pumped his fist, and as he passed by let out a loud, “Choo Choo!” Then 30 seconds later he’d come steamrolling back. The child clearly had extra energy and needed to let it out. The mom didn’t try to stop him from running. Instead, she calmly kept looking a few yards ahead to clear away any dangers that might be in his way. Her child was motivated to run. So instead of trying to stop him, the mom took on the role of clearing the path and laying tracks for him to keep running.

Who are the motivated trains in your organization? Who are the ones who are ready to run? We call these people your “Trending Leaders.” They are “trending” because their current Engagement State might only be a 2 or 3, but very quickly, with the right guidance, can steamroll all the way to being a 4 or 5. 

“Level 5 leaders set up their successors for even greater success in the next generation.” – Jim Collins, Good to Great*

Great leaders (5s) are able to identify the Motivated Trains in their organization and train them to be the future leaders, who then in turn find and train more future leaders. 

DFT Tip #28: Great leaders are able to identify and cultivate trending leaders within their community.

A challenge many leaders in larger organizations face when trying to identify Trending Leaders is that they aren’t directly connected to the “front lines” of their people. The solution, however, is simple: just ask the leaders on your team who are most in contact with the larger organization, to help you identify the leaders. In my one-on-one meetings with each employee, I specifically ask them to share with me a story about someone else on the team that excelled during the past week. Through this weekly process with my direct reports, I’m able to identify who my Trending Leaders are without having to be directly connected to each person. 

But it’s not enough to stop there. After you’ve identified the “Motivated Trains,” use your leadership position to remove roadblocks and lay tracks to allow the trending leader to move through each level of engagement quickly. Having this kind of strong internal labor market, where you cultivate the best of the best from within, is what creates a powerful sense of upward mobility for your employees.

DFT Tip #22: Leaders remove roadblocks so others can shine.

The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed.” – Tony Hseih, Delivering Happiness*

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