4 SURE-FIRE WAYS TO DEVELOP LEADERS AMONG YOUR EMPLOYEES
Leadership is often assumed to be a quality that a person has or doesn’t have at birth — just ask Nigel Nicholson, the author of “Executive Instinct” — and while there is a certain underlying charisma that great leaders often exude, the overarching truth is decidedly less romantic and less fatalistic. Good leadership qualities develop in much the same way that other good qualities are developed: over time with patience, attention and practice. Nowhere is this reality more true than in the 21st century workplace. Regardless of whether you work in finance, insurance, hospitality or the non-profit sector, you need to be working to develop leaders from among the employees who currently work for you. Not only is it easier to groom someone from within your organization for leadership, but doing so will yield better retention and loyalty, too. If you’d like to see your diamonds in the rough really start to shine, here are four sure-fire ways you can develop leaders from among your current employees.
Be a Role Model
Who you are, what you say and what you do can contribute more to developing — and undermining — good leadership qualities among your employees than just about anything else. By communicating your own need and desire to keep learning and developing in your job — and sharing that process and what you learn with your team — you create a culture of effort and openness toward new ideas. Allow yourself to be vulnerable by speaking honestly with those in your charge about difficulties you and the company are facing. Leaders are created by positively traversing pressuring situations and failures, and it’s only by modeling to your employees how to handle those kinds of unavoidable difficulties that you set the stage and culture for their own development.
Frame Problems as Opportunities
Failure comes with the territory of being in leadership and learning to lead. It’s a product of doing more and more challenging work. As you give your employees more opportunities to stretch themselves, problems will inevitably emerge. When they do, there are some research-backed ways to respond that will help your employees bounce back and learn from their mistakes. Let the employee know that you accept the failure and that you expect her to do the same. As you talk through what went wrong, be sure to frame the discussion as being much more than only a failed attempt; let her know that you see this setback as an opportunity to grow, learn and reassess, and as you walk her through what went wrong, be sure to use humor when appropriate. Because the reality of developing leadership qualities is that it’s only through difficulty that your employees grow, difficulty is essential, and those difficulties will sometimes lead to failure. When that happens, your employee needs to be encouraged, or their burgeoning leadership qualities may falter and perish. Let your employee know that frustration, embarrassment and disappointment can all be positive learning tools. Help her dust herself off, have a good laugh about it, and when you and she are ready, call her up to bat, again.
Mentoring actually doesn’t happen as often as it should. Executives are often short on time, and while the idea of mentoring sounds like a good idea, it can get passed over when more pressing matters arise. Because it can be hard to make it a priority, companies would do well to set up a mentoring program that pairs employees with upper level staff. Whether the two meet weekly or twice a month isn’t as important as what they discuss when they do. After spending time getting to know one another, a mentoring relationship can be greatly enhanced by the following:
- Occasionally swapping roles.
- Listening to one another.
- Exercising patience.
- Tackling the real world, specific issues that mentor and mentee are each working on.
Just because you hired someone to do online marketing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have him dip his toes into the pool over at HR. Cross-training is the practice of having employees learn and do multiple jobs — even those outside their wheelhouse and educational background — in order to give them an opportunity to grow, change, learn and develop further skill sets that may aid them and the company. While it isn’t likely that someone in sales is going to realize she has a deep, just-discovered love for desktop publishing, the perspective gained on the other work happening within your organization is invaluable. Especially as that employee rises in the ranks, her time in various departments and with different people will help inform her overall view of the company, its employees, its values and its customers. That broad perspective will enable her to lead with greater empathy and awareness — both skills that great leaders possess and skills that will keep a company in fighting shape far into the future.
Developing good leaders among your own employees makes good business sense, but it won’t happen overnight or without effort. From starting a mentorship program to being sure to frame failure as an opportunity for growth, it’s a process that requires patience, guidance and time.