3 Essentials to Igniting the Leadership Flame

Jul 12, 2016

Working in HR is anticipating, fighting and preventing fires. I’m going to go out on a limb here to say there should be a bit more fire starting. There’s no doubt where business’ largest assets reside, and that’s in those who occupy seats, desks and equipment. That’s why performance management will always be a large part of the employee conversation.

HR should be at the center of these efforts as it is responsible for building the bridge between employee and business. Business leaders are acutely aware of the connection and with 89% of executives ranking leadership as important or very important, it’s no wonder they are pushing for HR to be more active in its internal development.

So how does the HR professional go about igniting the leadership flame?

Define the direction

Often, we hire employees based on potential, expecting them to become leaders, but not explaining how to do so. Employees generally aspire to develop their career, so when this path is not discussed, they mistakenly feel as though there is no chance of advancement, eventually resulting in turnover. In fact, 86% of respondents in one survey cited ineffective communication as the reason for workplace failures.

Without any direction, employees are left to their own devices. We all have our idea of a good leader, for example, someone who is honest, compassionate, driven and fair. Those generalized terms will merely find a good friend, not someone who can lead projects, people and goals to the satisfaction of the executive team. No employee or new hire can aspire to undefined or unspecified leadership roles.

Success requires working backward, first determining the goal then laying out the path you will take to achieve it. Similarly, you will need to decide what the right leader can and will accomplish within your organization before expecting one to be selected or developed. These defining traits should also work alongside the established mission and values of the company.

Deciding what a leader is to your organization lies within the already established mission and values. Thankfully, HR is ingrained in all things that affect company culture, being the department closest to the experts (employees).

A plan for development

More often than not, leaders are born out of necessity. For example, a team loses a manager and the next tenured employee is asked to step up to the plate. Sometimes the process works and a well-suited manager is now running the show, but that isn’t always the case. Instead of leaving it to chance, create succession planning initiatives that can be implemented long before the need for promotion occurs.

Today’s workforce is looking for the opportunity to build their professional skill sets. In fact, 89% of employees feel it is important that their employer supports their personal growth, meaning your people want to be developing skills as much as you want them to.

When we hear skill development, we think conferences and company sponsored classes. While those methods have their merit, they aren’t the only way to build capable leaders. Cross-training is a great way to help build skills while ensuring no one department is dependent on an individual. Additionally, mentorship and coaching programs allow employees the chance to lead each other, not only benefiting the mentee but building skills within the mentor.

Even more, mentorship programs have been known to raise retention rates, with one company seeing 23% higher retention rates among participants as opposed to those who didn’t take part. Even shadowing programs that introduce employees to various job positions within the company can increase the knowledge base of your people.

Recognition for leadership skills

Positive reinforcement has and always be a motivator and if an organization of leaders is what you want, then you have to give employees a reason to work for it. While initiative exists in some individuals, that’s not the case for all and igniting a fire is what this is all about anyway.  77% of employees would work harder if they felt better recognized, so a byproduct of any employee appreciation effort might just be a more productive team.

Not only does recognition result in more participation, it holds all levels of the organization accountable. With a goal, tasks to achieve that goal and a plan for incentives in place, everyone begins on the same page and can play a part in the benefits. This is also a great time to ensure company goals are aligned with all forms of development, from executive to entry-level.

Without a solid team at the helm, an organization will never fare well. Luckily, there is a department whose sole purpose is to support the human capital of a company, and without that human resource (get it) at the center of leadership development and performance management, there will be holes, miscommunications and early exits. The first step in sparking the leadership fire lies within your own HR planning.