"The Game of Unknowns" continued - Identifying and Nurturing Leadership Potential

This week Tap'd are pleased to welcome Keran Dhillon from IBM Kenexa to be our Guest Blogger. Keran takes the "Game of Unknowns" theme and looks at the psychology of leadership potential and what we, as HR Professionals, can do to identify and nurture this...

Possibility can grow in the space of uncertainty...


To illustrate this think of a seed which is both fragile and has immense potential to grow into something beautiful and inspiring. As taught in biology, with the right conditions, it can grow to be an empowering tall tree or a beautiful plant that bears fruit, vegetables or flowers. However, a seed grows in its own time, at its own pace, to its highest potential. For that seed to reach its best, it needs nurturing, protection, attention and support. Indeed, we as human beings are no different.

When we think of this in the context of human behaviour in the workplace, we know that when choosing the right talent for the right job and organisation it is a combination of measuring capacity (innate ability and preference), culture fit (internal values) and capability (learned behaviours). Therefore, if an individual has the innate preferences and demonstrates potential and is in the right environment, all it requires to be successful is the right development, coaching and training to learn and grow to its potential and thrive.

Daenerys Targaryen (Copyright: HBO)

Daenerys Targaryen (Copyright: HBO)

A great example of this is Daenerys “Queen of Dragons” star of the hit US series Game of Thrones, who displays innate preferences and potential to lead, however with the various influences of individuals throughout the seasons it is clear that her leadership style has evolved and will continue to do so as she discovers that birth right alone is not enough: The respect and loyalty she earns by choice, rather than force, is far more powerful and enduring.

What makes Daenerys a Great Leader?

However, despite birthright, appointment or tenure; leaders lead! But why do they lead and why do others follow? 

IBM’s research into high performing leaders spans over 30 years, and is driven by our independent research institute – the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute. Our insight into the organisational culture, the drivers of engagement and the leadership behaviours that drive high performance in organisations is unparalleled.

The IBM Leadership methodology is based on research conducted in conjunction with London Business School and Princeton University. The research originally focused on identifying the underlying factors that seemed to be accelerating the differentiation between high performing and other organisations - What the researchers found was a series of factors that differentiated the high performing group of successful individuals and organisations. The core behaviours include; business thinking, inspiring people, developing people and achieving success.

These behaviours are evident in Daenerys and exemplify why she is a natural born leader. She has proven to turn adversity into opportunity and showcased critical thinking, making sense of chaos and being innovative with her ideas through the series. Furthermore, she surrounds herself with the wisest advisers possible. She listens to everyone’s input before making her decision and collaborates knowledge and experience of her advisers. Finally, during her campaign to conquer, Daenerys makes it a point to listen to be available for her people, support them through the chaos and develop them so they can survive the uncertainty lying ahead.

What can organisations learn from this?

There are a number of lessons to take away from this;

  1. For any businesses that is going through uncertainty and change it is crucial to assess and recruit talent with leadership potential regardless of  experience and job level.
  2. Invest the time and money to develop and nourish talent with leadership potential no matter how young or inexperienced, to ensure the business is in safe hands in the future and that employees are engaged, retained and productive to drive business success. 
  3. Succession planning is imperative for all executives and they should think about assessing potential across the organisation to ensure organisational survival in a globally competitive environment.
  4. Invest in the Millennial talent pool and profit from millennial desires for innovation and societal change, as a large percentage of the future workforce will be generation Y and therefore, future leaders.

What is the impact of leadership success on business outcomes?

Great leaders like Daenerys have shown great influence on her devotees who are committed and loyal and act upon any command of hers whilst also taking initiative. This is similar to the workplace whereby IBM research shows great leaders drive employee engagement and impacts customer service, retention and overall business performance. If employees are engaged they themselves will devote time to the workplace out of hours and show commitment to be successful.

What can I do to enable this?

A great way to start is to use our off the shelf IBM Kenexa Leadership assessments, designed specifically to identify leadership potential, preferences, motivations and behaviours. These can be used as a recruitment tool, but also equally as effective as a development tool to ensure the workforce are equipped to deal with uncertainty and change and drive business performance.

Just like great warriors, who start preparing and planning years before the battle, we need to prepare now to make our businesses prepared and ready for the times ahead.

Contact me, or other members of Tap’d Solutions, to start equipping your business for success in the uncertainty and tough times of the next few years, through the "Game of Unknowns".


Keran Dhillon, Assessment Specialist, IBM Kenexa

Keran Dhillon, Assessment Specialist, IBM Kenexa

Keran's role within IBM Kenexa is to offer organisations the theoretical, practical and commercial understanding of the importance of investing in and measuring human capital and to optimise business success through the use of behavioural science, data and analytics.

Keran's background is as a business psychologist with client facing experience with a range of FTSE 100 companies solving an array of business challenges using science and workforce analytics.