Every employer’s greatest strength lies in its people. You can have the most advanced technology, the best researched strategic plans and the most perfectly nuanced messaging yet still come up short without strong leaders and competent employees.
Where do great leaders come from? Ideally, you develop them yourself. The cost of promoting employees to leadership positions is typically much less than the expense of recruiting, interviewing and training external candidates.
However, the task of internal leadership development is hardly easy. Owners and executives must devote time and energy to helping current managers, as well as other key employees, gain the skills and confidence needed to advance to positions of authority. This entails a shift in mindset from being only “the boss” to embracing the role of someone who actively shares leadership knowledge. Here are four ways to do so:
1. Augment the performance management process. Most employee performance reviews will reveal both strengths and weaknesses. Typically, a direct supervisor will discuss these with an employee and set objectives for the coming year or review period. Go one step further with potential leaders: Sit down with them and specifically address how to bolster strong points and shore up shortcomings with the stated goal of developing their leadership skills.
2. Include them in high-level discussions. Give leadership candidates the opportunity to participate in important meetings they might not otherwise attend. If necessary, solicit their input during these gatherings. Sometimes, a lack of confidence or experience can lead to shyness or a hesitancy to share. Invite them to both internal meetings and interactions with external vendors, customers and prospects. Again, look to reinforce positive behaviors and offer guidance on areas of growth.
3. Help them network. Get potential leaders involved with an industry trade association or local Chamber of Commerce. By meeting and networking with others in your industry, these individuals can get a broader perspective on the challenges that your organization faces — as well as its opportunities. Also explore ways to leverage social media and online discussions to give them additional chances to find their voices and workshop ideas.
4. Let them lead when the time is right. Probably not right away but, at some point, put new leaders to the test. Give them control of a real-world project and then step back and observe the results. Assuming the consequences wouldn’t be catastrophic, don’t be afraid to let them fail. Doing so can help your most promising employees learn real-world lessons that can prove invaluable in the future. Then again, if their efforts are successful, be sure to give them plenty of positive reinforcement — even on an organization-wide basis, if appropriate.
So long as your hiring process is sound, you likely employ at least a few people who possess the aptitude and attitude to be great leaders. Don’t overlook this incredibly valuable resource.