While attending this year’s annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), it quickly became apparent to me that many organizations are struggling with a new and rather unexpected dilemma – full employment.

That’s right, the current unemployment rate of 3.6 percent is the lowest in 50 years. In fact, for the past several months, the Labor Department has reported that there are more job openings than people looking for jobs.

What a dramatic change since 2008!

Needless to say, many of the sessions at the conference covered this issue – specifically, what industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists and other human resources leaders need to do to be able to continue to identify, recruit and hire and/or promote highly qualified people for the many jobs throughout their companies?

As I listened to presenters, I noticed that two things were consistently mentioned: leadership potential and aptitude.

Potential vs. Aptitude 

While flying home from the SIOP Conference, I continued to consider leadership potential and aptitude and the difference between the two. Merriam-Webster’s definition of potential includes, “existing in possibility; capable of development into actuality,” while aptitude is defined as a “capacity for learning; general suitability.”

Let’s consider this in more detail.

If someone is “capable of developing a set of skills into actuality,” then they must possess the “capacity for learning.”

Over the years, “potential” has been applied to leadership-level positions, while the term “aptitude” is most often used when discussing non-management (or non-leadership) jobs.

But, these may be different terms for the same basic concept.

Therefore, it seems that “potential” and “aptitude” may refer to the same overall group of capabilities. That is, does a person possess the capacity to thoroughly and relatively quickly learn and develop the knowledge, skills, abilities and characteristics necessary to effectively perform a different job?

That may be a job in a different area/department, or it could be a promotion from a current position. In either situation, the challenge is very similar. Most importantly, this is the most critical challenge for today’s – and tomorrow’s – HR leaders.

Leadership Potential 

For the past 18 years, E•A•S•I-Consult® has assessed thousands of people for leadership positions and conducted a variety of leadership development programs around the world. Based on research from these many efforts, we have identified several key attributes that underlie those who have demonstrated stronger “leadership potential.”

These include:

  • Strategic Capability
  • Agility/Learning Agility
  • Inspirational Leadership
  • Innovation/Continuous Improvement
  • Empowering of Employees

Although there are other requirements for being a more effective leader, these are the characteristics that best predict which people are most likely to outperform their peers and be promoted more quickly and often.


Since 2006, E•A•S•I-Consult has assessed tens of thousands of candidates for many non-management jobs in industries ranging from heavy manufacturing to health care.

Again, our research has identified key attributes that best predicted a person’s ability to be successful in a job where they may have limited experience, including:

  • Learning and Problem Solving
  • Adaptability
  • Dependability
  • Team Orientation
  • Quality Orientation

As with leadership potential, other capabilities may be important for a specific job, but anyone who possesses an above average level of these five attributes is much more likely to be able to quickly learn new skills/job and then perform at a superior level.

Building a Superior Workforce  

The similarity between what best identifies “leadership potential” and the characteristics that identify “aptitude” for a wide variety of non-management jobs is rather amazing.

They both require the ability to:

  • Learn/Strategize
  • Lead Others and/or Work with Others
  • Adapt/Be Agile
  • Perform High Quality Work and/or Continuously Improve Work

Overall, HR leaders/departments must begin to fully understand these similarities in “potential” and “aptitude.” More importantly, for a company to be most successful today and in future years, they must quickly re-orient their approach to identifying and developing their workforce.

The most successful organizations in the future will be those who staff all their operations with people who demonstrate the potential/aptitude capabilities listed above. Sustainable growth and success will be impossible without this new type of workforce at all levels.

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E•A•S•I-Consult® and is a licensed Psychologist.  EASI-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI-Consult specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, online employment assessment including aptitude testing, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, survey research, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.