Judge people not by what they are today, but by what they can become tomorrow

Look for employees who have something to prove to themselves or to somebody else

The reality is bosses are only as good as the people working for them. An effective team has many different positions with each player possessing varying degrees of skill and experience. A strong organization is comprised of senior battle-scarred veterans, dependable midlevel managers who do the daily heavy lifting and a select group of high potential up-and-comers.

One of the most important roles leadership has is to discover future leaders who, with nurturing and experience, will become superstars. Without them, the organization will be relegated to mediocrity or worse.

Typically, the current movers and shakers at the top of most organizations have paid their dues and have already made a string of mistakes from which they’ve learned critical lessons for survival. These players maintain the firm’s buoyancy and growth trajectory for the immediate future. The middle group of doers represents the core of a sustainable organization, keeping the gears grinding away.

Most importantly, the future of every establishment belongs to those who are currently working in the shadows, yet to be discovered or hired. With a delicate balance of nudging, nursing and mentoring, they will emerge to take the company to new heights in the years to come.

The biggest issue with discovering diamonds in the rough is that resumes reveal only what people have already done, not what they will do in the future. The black box warning on every security prospective reads: “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.” The same peril applies to selecting an organization’s future winners. It takes experience, perception and the uncanny traits of a race track handicapper who, somehow, just knows, after all the analysis, how to pick the right pony.

Predicting how someone will evolve includes looking for how much horsepower he or she has under the hood. Money alone isn’t the needed high-octane fuel, nor is a fancy title or a bigger office. Instead, it’s finding that special someone who has something to prove to themselves or others.

Periodically, it’s a slow starter who suddenly has that aha moment when he or she finally recognizes that what has been gnawing at them is that doing it their way is the better way. These candidates may have been told by someone important to them that they’re better suited to follow than to lead. This becomes their battle cry to prove to themselves, and these doubters, that they can do much more than that. Others may have been playing second fiddle while suppressing that chronic, fed-up feeling and deciding they aren’t going to take it anymore. These “I’ll show them” types can be highly motivated by a nurturing boss and become hellbent on success.

Something-to-prove, wannabe superstars can blossom and emerge as the best of the best. With guidance, exposure to the discovery and decision-making processes, and a sprinkling of a few earned successes, they can surface as dyed-in-the-wool type As who know no bounds.

Some people have innate skills, others are scary smart, but the real superstars are those who are determined to stand out and rise to the top, taking the organization along with them for the ride.

The job of a leader is knowing what to look for under the candidate’s hood.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide.