Eight Simple Tests For Spotting Potential Leaders


When a Nobel Peace Prize winner gives advice I take notice, especially when it concerns spotting potential leaders. John Mott was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946. Mott was recognized by the committee because:

he had contributed to the creation of a peace-promoting religious brotherhood across national boundaries.

Mott’s life is fascinating. His leadership insights are keen.

What You Need To Know About John Mott

John Mott had devoted sixty years of his life to impacting students for Christ when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. During this time:

  •     He served 27 years as the national secretary for the Y.M.C.A. (USA & Canada).
  •     He organized the World Student Christian Federation in 1895.
  •     He served 13 years as the general-secretary of the International Committee of the    Y.M.C.A. (1915-1928).
  •     He served 11 years as the president of the Y.M.C.A.’s World Committee (1926-1937).
  •     He worked internationally on behalf of President Wilson.
  •     He wrote 16 books.
  •     He crossed the Atlantic over 100 times.
  •     He crossed the Pacific 14 times.
  •     He received honorary awards from 14 countries.
  •     He received honorary degrees from Brown, Edinburgh, Princeton, Yale, Toronto, and Upper Iowa.

At twenty-one, Mott, a Cornell student and prize-winning debater, was debating whether to pursue law or business. Then he heard a lecture by J. Kynaston Studd that pierced his soul and changed the trajectory of his life. Studd said,

Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.
— J. Kynaston Studd, January 14, 1886

Those words reverberated in Mott's soul. His course was set. He would devote his days to influencing the emerging generation.

8 Tests For Spotting Potential Leaders

John Mott applied eight tests to potential leaders. In salute to his Christian perspective, I have included a verse of Scripture for each leadership trait he identifies. The potential leader:

1. Does little things well.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”  Luke 16:10 NLT

2. Has learned to focus on priorities.

“Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” Proverbs 24:27 ESV

3. Uses leisure well.

“And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Mark 6:31 ESV

4. Has intensity.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV

5. Knows how to exploit momentum.

“Then I said to them, ’You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.’ And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” Nehemiah 2:17-18 ESV

6. Is growing.

“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” Proverbs 22:29 ESV

7. Overcomes discouragement and “impossible situations.”

“And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.” 1 Samuel 30:6 ESV

8. Understands his or her weaknesses.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Romans 12:3 ESV

Commenting on Mott's list, J. Oswald Sanders notes, "A single life has immense possibilities for good or for ill. We leave an indelible impact on people who come within our influence, even when we are not aware of it."

A single life does have immense possibilities. Leaders help people leverage those possibilities for the greater good in business, education, the church, community, sports, and in homes.

The need for leaders continues to grow. We need leaders and we need more of them. Warren Bennis notes:

One person can live on a desert island without leadership. Two people, if they’re totally compatible, could probably get along and even progress. If there are three or more, someone has to take the lead. Otherwise chaos erupts.

Where there are no leaders, chaos erupts. Where there is no leadership pipeline, chaos is guaranteed. John Mott helps leaders grow leaders. That is something every organization needs.

How To Leverage The Eight Tests

We cheat ourselves and constrict the leadership pipeline if we don’t act on what we’ve learned. Here are three ways to leverage what you have just read:

1.  Identify three potential leaders you could be developing:

(1)  ________________________________
(2) ________________________________
(3) ________________________________

2.  Using the table below, score each person (1-10 or A,B,C) using Mott's eight tests:


3.  If you could only invest in one of the three potential leaders, which one would you choose? Why?


4. What "Next Step" should you take to invest in that leader?


Organizations grow as leaders grow. Leaders grow because someone sees potential and develop it. Tom Peters said, "“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”

What leader will you invest in today?

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.
— 2 Timothy 2:2 CSB


  1. Biographical data on the life of John Mott came from www.nobelprize.org. Their work is both informative and fascinating.
  2. Mott’s list was taken from Spiritual Leadership: A Commitment to Excellence for Every Believer, by J. Oswald Sanders. Chicago: Moody Publishers. 2007. Page 31.
  3. "A single life . . . " from J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, page 34.
  4. "One person can live on a desert island . . ." from On Becoming A Leader, by Warren Bennis. Basic Books. 4th ed. 2009. Page 4.