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In my book You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere, Can Make a Positive Difference, I quote Philip of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great), who said, “An army of deer led by a lion is more to be feared than an army of lions led by a deer.”

His insight is valuable – however, I think he misses the bigger point: an army of lions led by a lion is to be feared most of all. So why not recruit and hire an army of lions? Think of the competitive advantage of having not just good formal leadership at the top of your organization, but also having leaders at every level of your organization.

An army of lions is an organization where everyone knows two things: 1. When is it appropriate for me to lead in my role? 2. How do I do it?

Those two questions are simple, but the process requires effort. And, you’re thinking, “before I can help my lions answer those two questions, I need to find the lions!”

Your point is well-taken. And, believe it or not, it’s not that difficult to find
the lions.

The Principles

Here are some important guidelines to use when looking for potential leaders:

  1. Look for people who are just as interested in making a difference as they are in making money. Unless you’re interviewing someone for a volunteer position, they expect to be paid. While pay should be fair, it’s an incomplete motivator for a job candidate with leadership potential. Potential leaders want to do work that matters. It isn’t unusual to find people pursuing success, but leaders also pursue significance. Look for the latter.
  2. Find candidates who have proven that they have influence with people and they’ll be able to get results even if they never have “power” over people. The ability to positively influence others is essential for a leader. If someone can’t motivate, inspire or move others without a title, then the only way they’ll get results with people once they have a title is through absolute compliance. True leaders have the ability to create commitment in others with or without authority over them.
  3. Potential leaders are looking for more than perks and benefits; they’re looking for opportunities. The benefits a potential leader desires should be more than economic. Getting to learn new things, develop new skills, be challenged, participate in a variety of experiences and explore true potential are usually the types of benefits that rev up potential leaders. Look for people who light up when you mention these types of opportunities.
  4. Spend time inquiring into the candidate’s desired legacy, and not just their stated résumé. Any hire has long- term consequences for both employer and employee, regardless of the length of the employee’s tenure. Understanding a candidate’s values can be complex, but your most valuable insights will come from finding out what his or her endgame is.


Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio dedicated to developing leaders in business and in life. Mark is an international best-selling author and noted authority on leadership, team- building, customer service and change. Mark is the author of eight books, includ- ing the best seller The Fred Factor:How Passion in YourWork and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary, which has sold more than 1.6 million copies internationally. Learn more about Mark at