Skip to Main Content

As human resources leaders, we have a unique accountability to ensure our companies have the talent needed now, and in the future, to be successful. The core objective of your talent management and succession work is to ensure your company’s strategy is never constrained by a lack of talent. Your organization has a clear need to surface and develop leaders – your long-term viability requires it.

Driving this strategic talent agenda is fully dependent upon your company’s ability to consistently and accurately answer the following question: Who can effectively lead us in the future?

Long-term success is dependent upon getting the answer more “right” than wrong.

The examples of companies’ fates being determined by leadership selection decisions are endless: Where would be now after the passing of Steve Jobs had Tim Cook not been identified and developed in the years prior? What would be the fate of Whirlpool Corporation if they had not developed a slate of leaders to take over upon the retirement of David Whitwam, and later Jeff Fettig? And, how would Proctor and Gamble have responded to immense market pressures if David Taylor had not been ready to take the reigns as CEO in 2015?

These, of course, are more public examples at the CEO level; however, the impact of succession and development is felt at multiple levels in every company.

So, back to answering the question: Who can effectively lead us in the future?

Leader Success Profile

From our research and work with companies across industries, we have found four universal elements in a framework that helps differentiate those who have true potential from those who are more likely to be challenged if put into larger roles. For many talent professionals, this framework has provided a simple and useful model to apply in the daily identification and development of leaders.

What we call the “4C Leader Profile” helps leaders and professionals avoid an unusable long list of competencies, while ensuring they get beyond the bias and inaccuracies that result from a less structured and subjective approach to leader assessment.

The 4C Leader Profile is both practical and empirically sound, and its elements include:

  1. Capacity – applies thought leadership
  2. Character – is trustworthy and mature
  3. Communication – engages all key constituents
  4. Competency – applies strategic and functional skills

The order of these elements is important. When assessing, too many times we see leaders and HR professionals focus first, and sometimes solely, on a person’s competency. This is because a person’s functional skills and experience are easiest to assess and have a clear connection to a specific role. Competency is important, but the other three Cs are often not fully considered yet are critical in making accurate selection and development decisions.

Figure 1 – 4C Leadership Profile

Using the 4C Leader Profile framework begins with assessing each candidate’s “hardware,” or the raw material that is foundational to leadership success and points to the kind of roles they can effectively inhabit over time. There is a strong, positive relationship between a person’s character and capacity and the size and variety of roles, situations and environments that they can be successful in.

“Hardware” can be more formally defined as attributes and predispositions that are largely ingrained in a person; it encompasses personal “wiring” and is difficult to change.

A person’s character goes beyond their honesty, as important as that is. Character is comprised of the person’s attributes that have been shaped over their early life and includes the ability to regulate behavior, maintain perspective in difficult times, persevere and apply sound judgment. This level of maturity can come with age, yet is not always associated with age. Some employees can exhibit maturity early, while others may have the inability to manage in a seasoned and mature way their whole career.

A person’s capacity is their ability to manage complexity and solve problems. Each of us has a limit to our capacity. Those who have the ability to navigate through complexity, think broadly and solve difficult problems can provide unique insights and a level of competitive advantage to your business.

As a company, it is important to know which employees exhibit the highest levels of character and capacity and then invest in their development. Your talent acquisition activities should also be focused on sourcing and assessing candidates with great hardware.

Unlike a person’s hardware, “software” is much more malleable. If someone has strong capacity and character, they can develop as a communicator and influencer of people. They will also be able to develop the leadership and functional competencies required of the role and provide unique value in their roles because their wiring is strong.

“Software” involves capabilities that can be developed in a person, helping talent professionals determine the areas of focus that might maximize performance and potential.

In addition to the ability to send and receive clear messages, a person’s communication is their ability to read, adjust and influence different styles, types and levels of people through empathy and self-awareness. Communication and influence is increasingly important in larger leadership roles. There are other key constructs, such as Emotional Intelligence (EQ), that can be used with feedback and coaching to successfully develop this area.

Finally, a person’s competency comprises the skills and abilities required of the level and in a given role. This includes key functional skills, such as the ability to manage a P&L statement, as well as strategic leadership skills, like the ability to form a long-term plan for market development. Individual development should focus on the specific skills and abilities for immediate application and role success.

Assessing With the 4C Leader Profile

In making judgments using the 4C Leader Profile, it is critical to involve multiple informed and diverse perspectives in the process. It is through focused dialogue that keen insights are gathered, and better selection and development decisions are made.

Figure 2 – 4C Leadership Profile Indicators

The indicators in the figure above are helpful, but you may want to edit or even add a few based on the uniqueness of the character, capacity, communication and competency requirements of your business. What unique elements do you require?

If you find yourself getting bogged down in the detail of the indicators when discussing an employee, I encourage you to move the assessment to a more general, outcome-based litmus test. See the key question for each C in Figure 3.

Figure 3 – 4C Profile Litmus Questions


The 4C Leader Profile can help you and your leadership identify and develop great talent. However, be sure to make it the foundation of regular dialogue, and avoid the tragic trap of coming to a final conclusion on people. You should regularly revisit your assumptions and be willing to learn more, with the focus of figuring out how you can put each person in the position to be as successful as they can be.