Developing Graduates into Future Leaders

Spotting the next generation of leaders amongst the new graduates in your organisation is an astute way to add value to their professional development whilst increasing value to your company. Whereas the term ‘leader’ once had more autocratic attachments to it in a traditional business setting, new ways of working have meant that a leader can be lots of different things, most importantly someone who engages with and inspires their team to achieve results. So what traits should you be keeping an eye out for in your intake of graduates and how can you help them realise their potential as a future leader?

Driven Personality

It’s important to look out for how driven your graduates are. Obviously all of them will be driven to an extent, otherwise they wouldn’t have applied for your scheme, but there will be a a handful that stand out. Being driven at a graduate level doesn’t mean trying to steer projects and get to the top as quickly as possible, arguably these traits are not good in a future leader.

You need to look out for graduates that are keen to take on responsibility, regardless of level or scenario. Take note when they want to take on responsibility because of a genuine interest in the project and wanting to deliver real results, rather than as a stepping stone to make themselves look good. Graduates who shy away from responsibility might not be leaders, but they can still be great team members.

Reaction to Challenges

Your graduates might have excellent academic track records, but this doesn’t necessarily transfer to being effective in the workplace. School and university might not have been a challenge, so some graduates will not have experienced difficult scenarios before. Seeing how they react to stressful or uncomfortable work situations can be insightful. Keeping a calm head, staying on course and delivering consistentently to overcome a challenging situation are all leadership qualities that can shine through in testing scenarios.

Emotional Intelligence

If you’re a leader with emotional intelligence then you’re able to listen, understand and encourage others around you. This is a really important trait to have in modern business and team members respond well to leaders with emotional intelligence. At a basic level it means taking the feelings and personalities of your team into account, listening to their concerns and putting them on projects with people that bring out the best in them.

You can spot emotional intelligence by assessing how graduates manage relationships and mitigate conflict. Do they build relationships at work well? If they do then this can show levels of maturity, integrity and empathy, as we use these values to build trust in our relationships, which are essential to being a good leader.


One of the most important traits someone can have in their personal and professional life is the ability to hold their hands up and take accountability for their actions if something has gone wrong. It takes courage and guts to admit when things haven’t gone to plan, graduates that are not afraid to admit responsibly and take the necessary steps to correct what went wrong can become brilliant leaders. Having a team member that evades responsibility, points the finger at others and doesn’t learn from their mistakes can lead to a toxic work environment and will negatively affect those around them.


Not every graduate will arrive with leadership skills, so you may have to use your own experience to encourage leadership qualities. You may spot some elements of a graduate’s personality which you think would work well in a leadership role. Providing a bit of guidance can give them the confidence to develop their skills and look towards leadership roles in the future. Some graduates might not see themselves as leaders, but with the right help and support they can quickly become some of the strongest and loyal employees.

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Tim Griffin

11th April

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