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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dering Mock

Leader as Prospector

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

When we hear the word "prospector," we think of miners with shovels and pick axes rushing to unearth the riches hidden in the hills. When applied to leadership, the word reminds us of the calling to unearth not physical gold, but the riches hidden in team members. Tapping into the veins of talent often hidden in people.

At the root of the word "prospector," is possibility and potential. One of the important aspects of contemporary leadership is the ability and commitment to recognize and develop potential in others. So, how do leaders do this?

1. Ask Probing Questions Successful prospectors of talent ask their people questions about their gifts, interests, goals and aspirations. Listening carefully can yield volumes about where a person's passions, strengths, talent and curiosity lie. Designing and delegating assignments that draw on these, if possible, is like bringing gold to the light of day. In recounting some of the best leaders they've encountered, people invariably remember a leader who pulled things out of them that they themselves didn't know they had!

2. Keep Your Eyes Open During Upheaval It is sometimes the case that previously overlooked talent rises to the top during difficulty, change or uncertainty. They often step forward, volunteer, learn new things and show resilience. Prospecting leaders see this and capitalize on what they bring to the table. After the upheaval, do not forget that these individuals are very likely ready for more responsible work.

3. Who Says "Yes" to the Hard Stuff? Who is willing to take on something difficult? Who comes armed with solutions? Who agrees to handle a leadership challenge with no title or authority? Who steps in to resolve a conflict with equanimity? These are all signals of readiness to lead. The prospector understands the role of a leader in leaving a legacy of leaders and developing his successors, and taps into this vein of leadership potential.

4. Throw Challenges in People's Path Observe how people respond to new and difficult challenges and assignments. Who seems undaunted in finding a solution? Who looks for a better way, a quicker way, a smarter way? Who engages others with expertise to assist or advise? Who seems energized by tackling something new? These people are spark plugs in your team's engine and often ignite enthusiasm in others, an important gift!

5. Who is Respected by Others? In groups, some people are respected for their expertise, but more often, people are respected for other qualities: loyalty, integrity, character, and trustworthiness. While rarely listed on a job description, these are the most precious gold: riches to be unearthed and celebrated because they are the bedrock of your culture.

Buried beneath the surface, everyone has talents, gifts, interests and a potential for learning and growing. It is no longer enough for leaders to simply "spot" this talent. Now, in order to create high-performing teams, leaders must prospect for it, unearth it, develop it and celebrate it!

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you agree that "Buried beneath the surface, everyone has talents, gifts, interests and a potential for learning and growing?"

  2. Have you ever worked for someone who drew out of you things you didn't even know you had? How did they do it?

  3. Have you observed leaders who were effective at throwing challenges in your path or the paths of others? How did they did that? What happened?

  4. What are the implications for leaders? For you?

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