How does developing future leaders accelerate company growth? Simply because you, the owner or senior leader, can’t do it all. As your company grows the leadership skills of supervisors and managers become increasingly important. To meet that challenge, you need a leadership development program that can accurately identify and train future leaders at the lower- and mid-levels of the company who will accelerate your company’s growth.
What is a leader?
Let’s start by defining terms.
• Leadership – Getting things done through people.
• Leader – Anyone who has responsibility for the actions or production of other people.
It is essential to see leadership for what it is. Forget the discussions about leadership versus management and all similar vernacular arguments. At its very basic level, leadership is getting things done through people. With that definition, it’s clear that anyone who is responsible for the actions of other people is in a leadership position. They may be good leaders or they may not; however, being an ineffective leader doesn’t mean they don’t have leadership responsibilities.
That’s why leadership development is such an important aspect of your business and why it’s critical to take a serious approach to developing future leaders. Your managers and supervisors are the leaders who have the most day-to-day interaction with your workforce. They are the ones who deal with many issues you may never see. If they aren’t effective leaders they are also the ones who will cost your company production and profits.
Developing your future leaders requires some consideration on your part, but a leadership development program should become a normal part of your business operations. It starts with identifying potential leaders.
How to identify potential leaders
How do you identify potential leaders? How do you know if someone will be successful as a leader?
There is no genetic predisposition to good leadership so don’t look for the “born leader.” In fact, more than 40 years of leading teams and developing other leaders has proven to me that almost anyone can become a good leader. There are only two requirements.
1. A desire to be a good leader.
2. A willingness to develop good leadership skills.
To find potential leaders, you must make a concerted effort to know the people on your team. Sometimes someone will just stand out as having great potential, but often good future leaders aren’t as obvious.
There are a few places to look for potential leaders.
• Look for the informal groups that develop in any organization. Recognize where these groups are and who seems to lead them. They are the people others turn to for help or clarification. Sometimes they are quiet and non-confrontational; they may not even consider themselves to be leaders. But when things need to be done, you’ll find them in the middle of it.
• Look for the workers who seem to accomplish more than their peers. This requires careful assessment on your part as sometimes just who is making things work is not easy to spot. What you’re looking for are those on the team who are the catalyst for success or are at least working hard to make things happen. These are the people you’ll want to seriously evaluate.
• Always be on the lookout for that “diamond in the rough.” Every so often you’ll have someone on your team who, at first glance, doesn’t seem to possess much leadership potential. But, as you observe them, you see a little spark of something, maybe a little leadership talent that is masked by a gruff or even unfriendly exterior. This isn’t the loud person I mention below. They are a contributing member of the organization, but may come across as unpolished and maybe a little coarse. This person may be somewhat more difficult to develop, but the extra effort will produce a superior leader.
Be careful of people who are just loud. They are normally the ones complaining about this policy or that assignment or trying to convince you that they are making things happen. You’ll probably notice that when there is discontent, they are in the middle of it. Always ready to tell anyone who will listen that something is unfair; they seldom if ever have any suggestions for a better way and seem to think their only purpose in life is to complain. To be fair, some of these people can be turned into good leaders, but doing so is hard.
Now that you’ve identified potential future leaders, what’s next? Here’s where you need to have a company leadership training program for new managers and supervisors.
Developing future leaders
Developing future leaders should be a primary concern at the executive level. Global Human Capital Trends 2021 from Deloitte University Press is packed with interesting statistics, but of particular note is that among 6000 HR and business leaders, leadership was listed as a top priority for supporting preparedness. The report documents a need to develop leaders who are adaptable and can develop their team members.*
How do you develop future leaders?
• Give them opportunities to lead. Start with something small that won’t be disastrous if you have to step in at the last minute. That seems obvious, but it’s not really that common. This will give them a chance to have some success as a leader which is a good foundation for their leadership development.
• Let them observe you. There will be times when you have to keep things close to the vest, but let your protégé watch how you handle challenges and even set-backs. I had several bosses who let me tag along to the meetings, and engaged me in issues that were above my pay grade. They gave me a chance to see how more senior leaders interacted and how they dealt with issues: a critical part of my leadership development.
• Use your leadership coaching sessions to steer them toward more responsibility. Your goal is not to just help them improve on the job, but to also recognize opportunities to go beyond their current position. Did a boss ever tell you that “you should really consider this?”
• Make sure your boss or leadership peers can see your protégé. It’s a common practice to hide your best people so they won’t be taken away. Make it clear that you see potential in this person and you are grooming them for future success. Cooperate with your peers to help them in their own future leadership development programs.
• Send them to real leadership training. Skip the one-day fire hose treatment. Those programs just aren’t very effective. Instead, develop a serious leadership training program that helps them develop and apply real leadership skills.
Developing future leaders will accelerate company growth. A robust leadership development program will help you develop future leaders but will also help current leaders become more effective leading more productive teams.
*The Social Enterprise in a World Disrupted: Leading the Shift From Survive to Thrive; Deloitte Insights. 2020. Available at https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends.html