It was performance appraisal time and I was being reviewed by my manager. After completing the discussions around the achievements vis-à-vis the targets, it was time to review the future plans for my departments and teams. I presented a plan where my most promising team members would take on most of my responsibilities. My manager looked hard at me and asked a question, “If they are going to take on most of your job, what are you going to do?” A question that would no doubt rattle the most battle hardened leader. I drew in a sharp breath, but with a sinking feeling in my stomach replied, “I am looking forward to take on additional responsibilities in the company”. Apparently my answer did not go down too well with him.
Most articles on leadership talk about the top leadership traits that every aspiring leader should emulate. Not many talk about the most important trait of a leader – to develop other leaders. Not everyone is lucky to have a boss who takes interest in developing his or her team. In my case, I had worked hard to develop my team members, including a few of them who showed signs of becoming good leaders.
In most organizations, employees get promoted because of their performance and skills, rather than their readiness to lead. Some organizations feel that only employees at the junior levels need to be developed, while senior managers and leaders should develop themselves. Recruiting leaders from outside is time consuming, expensive and often risky. There is no guarantee that a leader, who is successful in a particular organization and situation, would be a success in your organization. The ability to develop homegrown leaders at all levels gives a long term competitive advantage for any business.
These are the 6 practices I have used during my career to develop leaders.
Identify potential leaders: Identify promising leaders at all levels, who can upgrade themselves to step into critical positions whenever required. These are people who are always ready to push themselves and move out of their comfort zone. Uncertain and volatile situations are the best ways of finding out if someone is leadership material. We have to go beyond job-related skills and look at their behaviour, attitude, interests, goals and values.
Make leadership development a part of your culture: Managers should be on the lookout for the best and brightest employees. They should be held accountable for developing other leaders.
Develop a shared vision: Leaders should define a strategic vision for their business and get their teams buy-in. A shared vision helps potential leaders see a future for themselves in the organization. It provides an answer to “what’s in it for me?” and helps build high engagement levels.
Make opportunities available for leadership development: A leadership plan should showcase succession at all levels – who moves where across the organisation. And leadership development should be made a part of the business strategy. While formal training helps, the best way to develop leaders is to give them challenging assignments and job rotation. It is the leaders’ responsibility to ensure that their team members get the required guidance and support in their new roles.
Monitor, Measure and Reward: Potential leaders have to be accountable for their performance and should also get appropriately rewarded for their achievements. The organization should have in place a robust appraisal system along with attractive incentives and rewards.
Use coaching to support emerging leaders: Coaching discussions help potential leaders address their weaknesses and fears. These are one-on-one discussions which advice and guide on specific challenges. A great coach is someone who helps the coachee come to a new level of understanding of what is possible to make real breakthroughs and create lasting change.^
Introduce these 6 practices in your organisation and experience the impact of building a strong leadership pipeline, which will keep the organization stable and on course in these troubled times.
^Coaching your emerging leaders is an important part of leadership development. Get in touch with a Professional Life Coach to support them on their leadership journey.