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Hormona wants women to track their ‘hormonal health’ with at-home testing

Quantified health activity is all around us these days, as scores of people use mobile sensing technologies to keep an eye on their well-being by tracking…



Quantified health activity is all around us these days, as scores of people use mobile sensing technologies to keep an eye on their well-being by tracking their steps, workouts and even how long and deep they sleep — so why shouldn’t women who cycle (as in menstrual cycle) track monthly changes to their hormone levels? London-based femtech, Hormona, which is pitching its hormone tracker in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt, hopes to encourage people with periods to do just that: Add hormone-monitoring to their quantified health mix.

Today it’s announcing the launch of its app in the U.S. after a period of early testing with “a few thousand” women in Europe (it’s been beta testing in Sweden). The 2019-founded U.K. startup has already spent a couple of years in R&D developing an easy-to-perform, proprietary at-home hormone test to underpin a forthcoming monthly subscription business that will enable users of its (freemium) app to pay to regularly test and report their hormone levels.

In the near future, in return for “roughly” $40 per month (for the subscription package which includes a supply of self tests), paying users will get feedback on whether they’re inside or outside the normal hormonal range for women their age — and suggestions for treatments if something looks amiss.

That’s for starters. Hormona’s overarching goal, as is often the case with femtech startups, is to encourage a critical mass of users to get on-board with a mission to help plug the data gap that persists around women’s health (as a result of medical research being historically skewed towards male biology) — by agreeing to pool data for research aimed at improving understanding of the roles hormones play in areas like fertility and the menopause. (This side is of course optional: Hormona confirms that any studies it engages in involving user data will be consent-based, i.e. requiring the user to opt their information in.)

Jasmine Tagesson, COO at Hormona pitches as part of TechCrunch Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on October 18, 2022. Image Credit: Haje Kamps / TechCrunch

“As of now, there isn’t enough data around hormonal health and it’s really affecting every single woman in different stages of her life so it’s a very important topic that we really need to spend more time to do more research and understand,” says Hormona CEO and co-founder, Karolina Lofqvist, ahead of today’s on stage pitch at the Startup Battlefield in San Francisco.

“With this test we can really help women to figure out if they have irregular cycles, if they’re going to have problems getting pregnant or if they’re going into menopause,” she continues. “Our full solution is really on hormonal health — and follow[ing] a woman from her first cycle all the way to her last.”

“We are hoping that with the data [users opt in] we can do more studies around how women are affected by their hormones, how different connections and different levels between hormones can be connected to hormone related issues such as PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome] or — eventually, perhaps — endometriosis as well, even if it’s not a direct hormonal issue. But PCOS for sure, and infertility and menopause,” she adds. “There are a lot of things that are connected to your hormones that are currently understudied that we are very excited to do more studies and bring more awareness around.”

The startup has raised a total of $1.5 million in early backing from three VC firms so far: SFC Capital and Nascent Invest, as well as Techstars — after going through the latter’s LA accelerator program earlier this year.

Cycling through hormone testing

Hormona’s at-home hormone tests — which are lateral flow, urine-based tests for (initially) three separate hormones (FSH; progesterone; and estrogen) — will be available from Q1 next year, per Lofqvist, starting in the U.S., with a European launch to follow later.

That means, for now, its (free-to-download) app is essentially a general resource that provides information about the function of different female hormones. As tests become available, it’s also designed to funnel users towards regular self-testing (and paying a subscription) to unlock personalized hormonal insights once the testing component of the business launches early next year.

“In the app today you can start to understand what is supposed to happen with your hormones and then when the test is available women can confirm that what is supposed to happen is actually happening,” says Lofqvist, going on to explain that subscription users will be testing roughly one hormone per week (using a separate test per hormone) and doing this at home — “without the need for a lab”.

The three hormones it’s selected for testing were picked because they’re “connected to so many different issues that we women go through”, she says, adding that they may add tests for more hormones in the future — with testosterone and cortisol being two others of potential interest.

The initial batch of hormone tests are performed by users as three separate tests, rather than being bundled onto a single test strip. This is because Lofqvist says that certain hormones need to be tested on certain days to properly understand how levels are changing throughout the cycle. “You don’t test your estrogen on the same day as you test your FSH,” she notes, adding of the individual test dates: “It’s based on our algorithms telling when your estrogen and FSH is supposed to be at the highest or lowest level.”

App users need to provide Hormona with some information about themselves (such as their age) and about their cycle (e.g. regular or irregular; and its length) in order that it can calculate personalized testing dates. Lofqvist confirms these dates “can vary a bit” depending on what the user’s goal and age is. While she tells us the overall accuracy of its hormone tests is “on par” with an at-home blood test.

“We’ve spent the last two years in order to evaluate antibodies to give us as good result as possible and right now we are on par with at-home blood test,” she tells TechCrunch, adding: “But that’s something we continue improving.” (We asked for — but Lofqvist was unable to provide as yet — data on how its at-home hormone test compares in accuracy to a lab-based hormone test. So that’s one to watch for sure.)

So how does its at-home test work? Users take the specified hormone test in the morning on the day the app instructs them to by peeing on the test stick and using the app to scan the result with their mobile phone camera to get what Lofqvist describes as “a quantitive result within 15 minutes”. The test result takes the form of a couple of lines appearing on the strip. Hormona’s algorithms work by comparing the intensity of these lines in order to determine the amount of hormone in the user’s urine.

“If you compare it to a COVID-19 test, you don’t want to have two test lines — but we always have two tests lines,” she notes. “With the two tests lines we then compare the intensity in the test lines to provide a quantitive result for imaging processing.”

Lofqvist argues that by being able to test hormones levels multiple times, i.e. as the months of usage go on, it has the chance to glean a better understanding of hormonal changes because the tech can pick up on patterns over time vs the traditional hormone-testing route of going to a doctor/lab and getting blood drawn which is obviously also a lot less convenient. (Although the accuracy of Hormona’s at-home tests vs a blood-based hormone test performed by a professional needs to be properly factored into any comparison.)

“Today’s solution where you go to draw blood… doesn’t really tell you what is going on with your hormones because in order to understand it you need to test it multiple times in order to see the patterns and that is really what we want to try to achieve with our solution,” she suggests.

Hormona will be recommending users subscribe for at least three months — in order to get what Lofqvist calls your hormonal “baseline” — although she says they’re hopeful that women will see the value in continuing to shell out for a subscription to keep tracking these chemical signals on an ongoing basis, much like they might track their steps or sleep. (And exploring how the product might usefully integrate with other trackers and biomarkers, such as those from wearables or other health tech gadgets, is something she says they’re looking at.)

“As a woman, some months you may have been stressing more — which increases your cortisol and can affect your hormones — so in order to figure out what’s going on you need to test for at least three cycles. After three cycles we can give you then some indication of what’s going on with your hormones. And give you a treatment plan based on your hormone levels,” she notes.

“When it comes to women that are a bit younger it tends to be holistic treatment plans — in order to stabi

Karolina Lofqvist (CEO) and Jasmine Tagesson (COO) at Hormona pitch as part of TechCrunch Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on October 18, 2022. Image Credit: Haje Kamps / TechCrunch

lize your hormones — but we also are in discussions with medical providers that can provide medication to women that are in need of it if you, for example, are going into menopause quite early or if you have issues around your menopause.”


Why track hormones?

While it’s easy to see utility in ongoing, regular hormone tracking for women suffering from specific health issues that they already suspect might be linked to a hormonal imbalance, why should women generally be wanting to track their hormones? What utility can people who cycle get from paying to access this sort of data on an ongoing basis, as Hormona hopes they’ll be persuaded to? 

Lofqvist responds to this by recounting her own story of hormone-related health issues — which led her, ultimately, to a diagnosis of imbalances and an under-active thyroid. But it was the difficulty she had obtaining this diagnosis through traditional healthcare routes, and the stress and frustration of her experience with these conventional channels, that sealed her conviction there’s broad value for women to track their own hormones. ‘Knowledge is power’ and all that.

“The reason why I started Hormona was due to my own health issues. I used to work in an investment fund and work quite long hours. I went to multiple doctors because I suddenly started to lose hair, getting brain fog, gaining weight. And a lot of doctors said that it was probably due to stress and I should try taking anti-depressants,” she recounts. “It wasn’t until I found a hormone specialist in Brussels that had me take weekly blood tests in order to figure out how my hormones were fluctuating that he realized I was suffering from hormonal imbalances.

“And it is very common today [for women to have hormonal imbalances]. But today’s solution of drawing blood — one blood test — can’t really tell you what’s going on with your hormones. So the reason we have picked those three hormones is they are really the key hormones when it comes to a lot of issues that women are going through that are currently understudied that we are hoping we can bring more data and medical research around.”

She also says Hormona’s start point is a list of around 50 symptoms that can be related to hormonal imbalances, such as weight gain, acne, brain fog, hair loss and so on; and its initial target are women who can “connect” to those symptoms and who are interested in investigating possible underlying causes.

“There are a lot of symptoms that are related to hormonal imbalances. And what we can see from our user base today is it’s mainly women around late 20s to early 40s that are very interested in the concept — but as we go [on] we really want to follow women from her first period all the way to her last with all the hormonal changes that she’s going through,” she adds.

If the app picks up something out of the normal range as the user performs regular testing — such as them having too much progesterone or too much estrogen vs the standard for their age (something which might be the result of them having been on hormonal contraception and then stopping it, for example) — it will suggest what Lofqvist describes as a “holistic treatment” plan.

She says these personalized plans are based on existing scientific research into interventions that may be beneficial for hormonal imbalances — in areas like diet, exercise or taking certain supplements.

“Quite often there are a lot of holistic treatments that can help women to stablize their hormones if they are at a younger age,” she suggests, pointing to “a lot of studies based on that” — and noting that such treatments worked for her when she was suffering hormone-imbalance related issues in her twenties.

Hormona’s technology is not yet regulated as a medical device but Lofqvist confirms that is the goal, telling us: “We have a very clear regulatory path that we have developed over the last year where the end goal is to have an approved medical device.”

For older women, the intended product utility includes being able to help them identify when they’re entering the menopause — based on spotting changes to their hormonal baseline. And perhaps picking up that change happening earlier than they otherwise might.

“Today there isn’t really any test that tells a women they’re going into menopause,” she argues. “A lot of doctors say you need to wait for a year to see if you haven’t had your period for a year then you’re considered going into menopause. But with our test we can quite quickly see that you’re going into menopause when your estrogen is dropping and your FSH is going up. So there is quite [a lot of] use-cases around these three hormones but, to start off, we’re focusing on hormonal imbalances and use that to improve the general well-being of a woman.”

“As we go, the more data that we collect we really hope that we can really fill the medical landscape and help to guide the future of hormonal health,” she adds. “Because it is really understudied, under-utilized and under-funded.”

Competitive and challenging landscape

This isn’t the first quantified health startup we’ve seen that’s using urine testing as the method for acquiring biomarker data. Indeed, the health alert potential of pee-testing has been interesting startups for years (both for highly targeted and far broader health concerns) — and it’s easy (pee-sy!) to see why since it’s a straightforward, minimally invasive/low mess method that can quickly be incorporated into a morning bathroom routine.

Nor is Hormona the first femtech startup to be inspired to productize at-home hormone testing — with the likes of Berlin-based Inne (saliva-based testing) and Modern Fertility (finger prick tests) also in the game, to name a couple of rivals (albeit, the latter sold to telemedicine giant, Ro, back in 2021).

But a lot of femtech plays around hormonal health are targeted at specific issues and/or conditions — such as Allara, another recent U.S. startup, that’s focused on support for PCOS, for example — rather than trying to center hormone tracking itself to sell the idea of ongoing testing as a useful ‘well-being’ signal.

Lofqvist sums its positioning up by saying Hormona’s “pure focus is on hormonal health”.

She has some warm words for fellow European startup Inne, when we bring up its competing (saliva-based) at-home hormone test (which involves an additional piece of hardware that carries out the at-home analysis). But she argues there are key differences in product focus and output — with, for example, Inne targeting fertility (it had planned to prioritize a contraceptive use-case but that got delayed after the pandemic disrupted a major study it needed to support its application for regulatory clearance).

She also points out that Inne provides users with less quantitative results (hormone levels are reported more abstractly; such as low, high etc.) versus Hormona (which reports actual numerical values). While Inne has always avoided describing its product as a hormone tracker, per se — instead its marketing talks of its product as a “cycle- and ovulation-tracker” (which is narrower than Hormona’s broader quantified health push). Plus it’s not testing all the same hormones. So the product positioning between that particular pair looks fairly distinct.

In general, Hormona is gearing up to go after a broader ‘female wellness’ use-case vs other femtechs interested in investigating hormones. Although its challenge is therefore broader: Its “hormonal health” premise is about connecting with a wider user-base by convincing women there’s general utility in making time to keep tabs on their monthly hormone levels and being curious about how they compare with their peers.

Early interest in its product has come from women who have been “dismissed by their doctors”, per Lofqvist. “Just like me they’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on with their health,” she tells us. But she points to signs of broader interest, too: “As of now we have women that are not suffering as well — they just wants to understand what is supposed to happen with their hormones on a daily basis and how you can kind of optimize your well-being.

“For example we had one woman that wrote a really nice review the other day that was like ‘oh I’m so grateful that a hormone app told me that today you may suffer from PMS [premenstrual syndrome] in the days before my menstrual cycle because otherwise I thought that I was just depressed. So to just get that small awareness that it’s actually normal the way you’re feeling, due to your hormones, feels like a big relief for a lot of women.”

“I think it’s amazing that there are so many femtech companies popping up and booming right now — it’s just helping everyone,” Lofqvist adds. “There is a lot of companies around fertility and menopause but what we want to focus on is purely hormonal health and carve out this new space that serves as its own category where we can follow women from her first period all the way to her last with all the changes that she’s going through.”

Why should women not want to track their hormones? Well, one very big red flag for potential users in the U.S., specifically — which might give women there reason to say no to using a digital tool for this kind of intimate self-surveillance — follows the Supreme Court’s undoing of constitutional protections for abortion earlier this year which has led to a swathe of states enacting draconian laws limiting women’s access to reproductive healthcare.

Some states have made abortion illegal in almost all circumstances. And prosecutions of women for miscarriage or still birth were not unheard of in the U.S. even prior to the Supreme Court decision. So a digital platform that’s taking snapshots of individuals’ reproductive health data (hormone levels) could risk becoming a target for authorities seeking to press prosecutions of women suspected of illegal abortions.

Women’s own devices could be targeted to access data the app holds on their reproductive health. Securing this information will be extremely important if users are to trust Hormona with such sensitive — and potentially legally risky — personal data.

Asked whether it’s concerned about this risk, and how it will ensure U.S. users’ data is protected, Lofqvist says: “Like any women’s health company, we are keeping a very close eye on the situation in the U.S. and are still in the process of evaluating our best go to market strategy, whether that is initially in the U.S. or Europe. We do however know that we do not want to exclude American women from using a service that can help bring more awareness, control and understanding of the female body to the women, who at present, need it the most and we are evaluating a variety of strategies in order to keep our potential American users’ data safe.”

“As a U.K. registered company compliant with GDPR [aka, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation] with all of its databases located in Europe we believe we have a degree of separation meaning that it is not as easy for the U.S. government to issue us with a subpoena to give up a user’s personal information,” she adds.

“At the end of the day as a female-founded women’s health company we believe in women’s basic right and our reproductive right is part of that. As such we would always take precautions to ensure that what we do does not put any women, but specifically vulnerable women, at risk.”

Hormona wants women to track their ‘hormonal health’ with at-home testing by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch

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COVID-19 lockdowns linked to less accurate recollection of event timing

Participants in a survey study made a relatively high number of errors when asked to recollect the timing of major events that took place in 2021, providing…



Participants in a survey study made a relatively high number of errors when asked to recollect the timing of major events that took place in 2021, providing new insights into how COVID-19 lockdowns impacted perception of time. Daria Pawlak and Arash Sahraie of the University of Aberdeen, UK, present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on May 31, 2023.

Credit: Arianna Sahraie Photography, CC-BY 4.0 (

Participants in a survey study made a relatively high number of errors when asked to recollect the timing of major events that took place in 2021, providing new insights into how COVID-19 lockdowns impacted perception of time. Daria Pawlak and Arash Sahraie of the University of Aberdeen, UK, present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on May 31, 2023.

Remembering when past events occurred becomes more difficult as more time passes. In addition, people’s activities and emotions can influence their perception of the passage of time. The social isolation resulting from COVID-19 lockdowns significantly impacted people’s activities and emotions, and prior research has shown that the pandemic triggered distortions in people’s perception of time.

Inspired by that earlier research and clinical reports that patients have become less able to report accurate timelines of their medical conditions, Pawlak and Sahraie set out to deepen understanding of the pandemic’s impact on time perception.

In May 2022, the researchers conducted an online survey in which they asked 277 participants to give the year in which several notable recent events occurred, such as when Brexit was finalized or when Meghan Markle joined the British royal family. Participants also completed standard evaluations for factors related to mental health, including levels of boredom, depression, and resilience.

As expected, participants’ recollection of events that occurred further in the past was less accurate. However, their perception of the timing of events that occurred in 2021—one year prior to the survey—was just an inaccurate as for events that occurred three to four years earlier. In other words, many participants had difficulty recalling the timing of events coinciding with COVID-19 lockdowns.

Additionally, participants who made more errors in event timing were also more likely to show greater levels of depression, anxiety, and physical mental demands during the pandemic, but had less resilience. Boredom was not significantly associated with timeline accuracy.

These findings are similar to those previously reported for prison inmates. The authors suggest that accurate recollection of event timing requires “anchoring” life events, such as birthday celebrations and vacations, which were lacking during COVID-19 lockdowns.

The authors add: “Our paper reports on altered timescapes during the pandemic. In a landscape, if features are not clearly discernible, it is harder to place objects/yourself in relation to other features. Restrictions imposed during the pandemic have impoverished our timescape, affecting the perception of event timelines. We can recall that events happened, we just don’t remember when.


In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE:

Citation: Pawlak DA, Sahraie A (2023) Lost time: Perception of events timeline affected by the COVID pandemic. PLoS ONE 18(5): e0278250.

Author Countries: UK

Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.

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Spread & Containment

Hyro secures $20M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform

Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare…



Israel Krush and Rom Cohen first met in an AI course at Cornell Tech, where they bonded over a shared desire to apply AI voice technologies to the healthcare sector. Specifically, they sought to automate the routine messages and calls that often lead to administrative burnout, like calls about scheduling, prescription refills and searching through physician directories.

Several years after graduating, Krush and Cohen productized their ideas with Hyro, which uses AI to facilitate text and voice conversations across the web, call centers and apps between healthcare organizations and their clients. Hyro today announced that it raised $20 million in a Series B round led by Liberty Mutual, Macquarie Capital and Black Opal, bringing the startup’s total raised to $35 million.

Krush says that the new cash will be put toward expanding Hyro’s go-to-market teams and R&D.

“When we searched for a domain that would benefit from transforming these technologies most, we discovered and validated that healthcare, with staffing shortages and antiquated processes, had the greatest need and pain points, and have continued to focus on this particular vertical,” Krush told TechCrunch in an email interview.

To Krush’s point, the healthcare industry faces a major staffing shortfall, exacerbated by the logistical complications that arose during the pandemic. In a recent interview with Keona Health, Halee Fischer-Wright, CEO of Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), said that MGMA’s heard that 88% of medical practices have had difficulties recruiting front-of-office staff over the last year. By another estimates, the healthcare field has lost 20% of its workforce.

Hyro doesn’t attempt to replace staffers. But it does inject automation into the equation. The platform is essentially a drop-in replacement for traditional IVR systems, handling calls and texts automatically using conversational AI.

Hyro can answer common questions and handle tasks like booking or rescheduling an appointment, providing engagement and conversion metrics on the backend as it does so.

Plenty of platforms do — or at least claim to. See RedRoute, a voice-based conversational AI startup that delivers an “Alexa-like” customer service experience over the phone. Elsewhere, there’s Omilia, which provides a conversational solution that works on all platforms (e.g. phone, web chat, social networks, SMS and more) and integrates with existing customer support systems.

But Krush claims that Hyro is differentiated. For one, he says, it offers an AI-powered search feature that scrapes up-to-date information from a customer’s website — ostensibly preventing wrong answers to questions (a notorious problem with text-generating AI). Hyro also boasts “smart routing,” which enables it to “intelligently” decide whether to complete a task automatically, send a link to self-serve via SMS or route a request to the right department.

A bot created using Hyro’s development tools. Image Credits: Hyro

“Our AI assistants have been used by tens of millions of patients, automating conversations on various channels,” Krush said. “Hyro creates a feedback loop by identifying missing knowledge gaps, basically mimicking the operations of a call center agent. It also shows within a conversation exactly how the AI assistant deduced the correct response to a patient or customer query, meaning that if incorrect answers were given, an enterprise can understand exactly which piece of content or dataset is labeled incorrectly and fix accordingly.”

Of course, no technology’s perfect, and Hyro’s likely isn’t an exception to the rule. But the startup’s sales pitch was enough to win over dozens of healthcare networks, providers and hospitals as clients, including Weill Cornell Medicine. Annual recurring revenue has doubled since Hyro went to market in 2019, Krush claims.

Hyro’s future plans entail expanding to industries adjacent to healthcare, including real estate and the public sector, as well as rounding out the platform with more customization options, business optimization recommendations and “variety” in the AI skills that Hyro supports.

“The pandemic expedited digital transformation for healthcare and made the problems we’re solving very clear and obvious (e.g. the spike in calls surrounding information, access to testing, etc.),” Krush said. “We were one of the first to offer a COVID-19 virtual assistant that deployed in under 48 hours based on trusted information from the health system and trusted resources such as the CDC and World Health Organization …. Hyro is well funded, with good growth and momentum, and we’ve always managed a responsible budget, so we’re actually looking to expand and gather more market share while competitors are slowing down.”

Hyro secures $20M for its AI-powered, healthcare-focused conversational platform by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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How to hone your leadership skills, and what your company can do to help

In the rapidly changing, ambiguous and unpredictable world of work, future leaders must be able to learn fast.




Leadership potential. GaudiLab/Shutterstock

The UK labour market has finally started to see a fall in vacancies following a post-COVID spike in open positions. But there are still more than a million job vacancies, which are “damaging the economy by preventing firms from fulfilling order books and taking on new work”, according to the British Chambers of Commerce.

A recent survey by this business lobby group found four-fifths of firms can’t recruit the people they need. Companies often look outside for external candidates to fill senior roles, but this overlooks current employees who may have the potential to move up within an organisation – even if they do not know it yet.

Overlooking employees often happens when management plays it safe, rather than risking giving “one of their own” an important new assignment. The resulting untapped employee potential can leave people feeling underused and frustrated. You need to be given opportunities to stretch, learn and develop to fulfil your potential at work.

Quarter life, a series by The Conversation

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life. You may be interested in:

Expert advice for budding UK entrepreneurs during a cost of living crisis

Trust is important if you want to succeed at work - here’s how to build it

Why menstrual leave could be bad for women

Human resource managers use potential – and in particular, leadership potential – to identify the employees that could be their organisation’s future leaders. In the business world (and often in academic research too), the term “high potential” typically means you are able to develop further and faster than others in a similar situation.

Someone with leadership potential has the capacity to be an effective leader in the future, but may need support to develop the right skills and experience to succeed. So, how can you work out your own leadership potential? Research highlights three main traits you need:

1. Growth: learning and motivation

Many studies identify the ability to learn as key to predicting future leadership effectiveness. This incorporates keenness to learn, the ability to extract as many lessons as possible from different experiences, and to adapt by applying these to enhance your future performance.

This explains why some people learn more from their experiences (and develop faster) than others. There is also a motivational component that includes drive and perseverance to achieve results, and the ambition to lead.

2. Foundational: cognitive and personality characteristics

Research shows that people who are more emotionally balanced, sociable, ambitious, conscientious and curious are more likely to become leaders.

Also, because it’s important to be able to make decisions effectively in any senior role, cognitive capabilities are key. These typically include strong judgment skills in complex and ambiguous situations, and being able to collect and evaluate information from diverse sources to reach solid decisions.

3. Career: qualities specific to the future role

Some models of potential also include “career dimensions”, which are specific skills relevant to a future role. For leadership potential, these might include qualities such as strategic thinking or collaboration.

New technology and workplace trends are among the factors that are changing how we work. This means the demands of future roles – and the career-specific qualities required to excel in them – may be quite different to those of your current job. In fact, research shows that more than 70% of today’s top performers still lack the key qualities that will help them to be successful in their future roles.

How can you develop these qualities?

As rapid change renders knowledge and skills out of date at an astonishing rate, the ability to learn is increasingly crucial to future leaders. Rather than “having all the answers”, you need to be able to find or figure the answers out. This means that leaders need the humility to know they don’t know it all, and the interpersonal skills to listen openly and learn from a diverse network of people.

At the height of the COVID pandemic, for example, New Zealand’s then prime minister Jacinda Ardern didn’t have all the answers. But she used her platform to quite literally ask for information. Ardern did a series of video interviews with different experts to get some key answers, speaking to a psychologist about coping with the stresses of the pandemic, and an experienced business mentor about supporting small businesses.

Having asked, listened and sought varied insights, leaders must then apply strong judgment and problem-solving skills to decide on the best way forward – even if there is no obvious path. This draws upon cognitive ability, but it also involves skills that can be learnt.

Man in shirt at laptop, looking forward and sitting between two other people, raising hand.
People with leadership potential ask questions and learn from their experiences. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Problems identifying potential

Unfortunately, organisations often rely upon current (or past) performance as a barometer of potential, which is far from ideal – not just because only a small proportion of current high performers also have high potential, but because people with strong potential may not currently be performing at their best. Perhaps they aren’t in the right role, or aren’t being sufficiently stretched or supported.

Either way, your employer shouldn’t conflate your current performance with your potential. This could also perpetuate the lack of diversity that persists at leadership level in many firms. Past performance is limited by opportunity. Some people, due to biases and stereotypes, may not have been offered the chance to show what they are capable of yet.

To avoid these problems, organisations need to assess their employees objectively to find those with leadership potential. This could include doing psychometric tests of their personality and cognitive and learning abilities. Simulations of typical tasks or problems could also replicate the likely cognitive demands of future leadership roles, helping to identify people who can best cope and learn from the experience.

Supporting future leaders

It’s important to remember that potential does not automatically unfold once it’s identified. Indeed, some studies claim that 40% of high-potential promotions end in failure.

However, if you’re good at learning from experiences and applying this to improve how you do things, and are motivated to progress and grow, you have a good chance of developing the career dimension qualities needed to be a future leader – and to do this faster than your peers.

But organisations must help by finding ways to stretch employees, while also building the scaffolding to support their learning and development. They should balance challenge with support through coaching, to help employees learn as much as they can from their experiences. If you want to be a future leader, you can then use these experiences to enhance your job performance and reach your full potential.

Zara Whysall also works for Kiddy & Partners, part of Gateley Plc.

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