Leadership identification and development are understandably topics of great interest to organizations. Conceptually, everyone knows strong leadership is necessary for organizations to succeed. All too often, the busy and fast pace of the business world cause companies to devote less time and attention to developing their future leaders than they should. Hiring, coaching, and developing leaders takes some planning and dedication from individuals and support from the organization. Here are some considerations and practical actions that can be taken to ensure your next generation of leaders are up to the task.
Search for a change agent — Companies are constantly evolving in today’s world. This can be attributed to a number of reasons such as disruptive technologies and changes in the needs and expectations of customers. The next generation of leaders must be able to adapt to these changes in the market and lead their companies through unfamiliar territory, while still remaining competitive. Some key qualities to seek in successful leadership candidates are the ability to be innovative, willingness to adapt, and an influential personality to lead others through change.
Define a model of successful leadership — Hiring those with high leadership potential is the first step to building leadership bench strength. Coaching and developing those employees to reach their full potential is a critical next step. Define what successful leadership is in your organization and industry. Define competencies and job responsibilities that would be carried out by the ideal leader, and directionally align coaching and development programs to match.
Give them leadership-level experiences — Allowing emerging leaders to participate in leader-level decision making and problem solving before they are formally in the role gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their skills at the next level, while also receiving the guidance they need from those that are more experienced. The more they are given real leader situations, the more they can learn the expectations, similar to a realistic job preview. And you can see if they really have the potential and desire to be a leader in the future.
Provide feedback — Conducting 360 reviews is a useful format for increasing one’s self-awareness based on the perception of others (direct reports, peers, and managers) and can bring about candid conversations about strengths and opportunities with regard to leadership behaviors and competencies. While formal 360 reviews may only happen annually, timely and specific feedback should always be given as situations arise throughout the year. This process can help to identify areas where coaching would be beneficial and action plans can be made for development between the manager and employee.
Implement mentoring programs — The creation of mentoring programs can provide many benefits to leadership development. Establishing a formal mentor-mentee relationship creates a safe learning environment with the purpose of personal and professional growth, and emerging leaders can obtain a wealth of knowledge from those currently serving in the position. This type of relationship is different than that between a manager and employee and ideally the mentor would be a different person than one’s manager. The mentee should be paired with a mentor that they feel comfortable with and can be open and honest with about challenges they’ve faced and areas they’d like to further develop.
Expose them to different parts of the company — The best leaders have a clear understanding of the entire organization and how each department relates to the others to drive organizational success. Rotating through different parts of the company as part of leadership development can teach valuable organizational knowledge and create a well-rounded future leader. This can be done through job shadowing or through participating in cross-functional teams on projects to understand different perspectives across the company.
Gauge their interest — You may feel you have the perfect candidate in mind that will one day make a wonderful leader in your organization. But at the end of the day, developing your next generation of leaders is a two way street and there has to be interest from both the employee and the organization.
Before you invest time and effort into formal leadership development, it is critical to have open discussions with the employee about their professional and career goals. Some employees prefer working at an individual contributor level and mastering their skills in that area, and every organization needs those types of employees just as much as they need leaders!
As outlined above, there are many approaches and best practices suggested to hiring, coaching, and developing leaders. Ultimately, you need to use the methods that will work best for your organization and ones that you can commit time, effort, and resources to completing. Leadership development is not a one step process completed at a certain time in one’s career, but it is an ongoing process that requires reinforcement and continuous learning.