Are You an Emerging Leader?

Emerging Leaders & Emergent Leadership

Emerging leaders are those whose actions and performance suggest they have the capacity to lead, but also have significant potential to take on bigger, more complex and challenging leadership roles. They may be members of the so-called “high-potential” pool, but they’re distinguished by being early-career professionals whose greatest talents include getting things done through others, through relationships. Some members of the pool are prized more for their expert knowledge and individual abilities.  

Emergent leadership, on the other hand, manifests in actions that guide execution through an assertion of initiative. The act of leadership does not stem from formal positional authority or power. In fact, what distinguishes it is often its spontaneity and situational nature. These acts often arise in response to a problem that poses a threat to realizing a shared goal. An individual sees the situation and responds with a solution-focused intent, which generates pro-social effects on colleagues and collaborators. 

How They Interact to Make a Difference

Both are important and contribute to organizational capacity. But it’s the emerging leader whose talent it is to create conditions most conducive to promoting aligned acts of emergent leadership in others. It’s more than a skill, although skills are implied (e.g., strategic mindset, other-awareness, communications). Emerging leaders create a contagion of shared leadership in the initiatives they lead, and it pays off: 

  1. It accelerates team development (forming, storming, norming, and performing) by encouraging and expecting all to exercise initiative. 

  2. It promotes diversity by explicitly welcoming all to contribute in their own ways and offer insights, ideas, and a willingness to work through issues. 

  3. It models an ethic of we, not me, meaning we’re in it together, greater inclusion and openness to the experience, views, and concerns of others. 

  4. It builds genuine alignment on goals, roles, and contributions as an imperative to ensure that actions serve the shared goals of the team. 

  5. It makes everyone accountable for results, providing ample incentive for people to take prudent risks, and make above-and-beyond efforts. 

  6. It thrives on dialogical and conversational interaction, rather than over-relying on hierarchy, which enables more productive and timely action. 

  7. It increases leadership capacity by empowering aligned acts of leadership at all levels and honing the leadership skills of next-generation talent. 

  8. It creates a history of achievement that all can identify with, learn from, and take credit for, and over time this legacy defines the culture.

If these are some of the ways that emergent leaders make a difference, how can you make a point of noticing and encouraging them? No one will exhibit all of the associated behaviors all the time, so how do you further promote skill acquisition? The answers to these questions exceed the scope of this brief article, but there are answers, many of which will be specific to your organization. And they’re worth exploring!