Effective leadership is essential for organizational success, yet many companies continually need help cultivating strong leaders from within the organization. This is not unusual. Leadership can be developed in employees at all levels through thoughtful training, coaching and mentoring, and thoughtfully designed and critiqued practicums.
Many years of experience have taught me that there is a profound and ignored crisis of leadership quality in the world today. There is a shortage of authentic leadership and people worthy of emulation. The Gallup organization informs us year after year that workforces worldwide are generally at most 30% engaged in their work culture and leadership. Organizational cultures suffer from high fear and anxiety while generally lacking an inspiring higher purpose. The embracing of human potential, the teaching and nurturing of brilliance, interpersonal respect, and simple human kindness and courtesy are relatively avant-garde concepts to most people in authority roles.
Typically, the conduct of those in significant authority – who are nearly always called “leaders” – involves emulating attitudes and behaviors irrespective of effectiveness. This is the unfortunate leadership curriculum throughout society.
The development of highly effective executive leadership that is worthy of emulation merits being ranked as an ongoing strategic priority. It follows that it is very costly to retain poor leaders, and it is extremely unwise to have key executives and high potentials in the shadow of people with major authority who are not excellent leadership role models. This is fundamental.
With that said, I’ve outlined five practical strategies to unlock the leadership potential in your people. From modeling effective leadership behaviors to providing stretch assignments, there are many high-impact ways to grow tomorrow’s leaders today. With the right developmental approach, you can unlock potential and build an outstanding cadre of managers, directors, and executives that will take your organization to new heights.
Identify Potential Leaders
With genuinely excellent leaders in roles where employees can emulate them, the first step in creating a cohort of authentic leaders is to identify the hidden gems within your team. In essence, these will be employees who demonstrate the raw traits and abilities of effective leaders. Ideally, these people naturally embrace each employee’s potential and persistently support human brilliance. Look for people with excellent communication and interpersonal skills who can inspire and motivate teams. Seek out mission-oriented people who exhibit courage, integrity, and strategic thinking capabilities. These individuals can challenge the status quo and demonstrate their mission orientation. In other words, they exercise the constructive impertinence that promotes conversations to refine the daily focus and corporate intellect.
Additionally, providing stretch assignments and situational leadership challenges can effectively reveal those with latent leadership potential. These are your current and future leaders, seeking the right environment where they can further blossom. Your job is to cultivate that fertile environment.
Invest in Training and Mentorship
Once you have identified promising talent, invest in sharpening their leadership skills through formal training and mentoring programs. Send high potentials to leadership development boot camps and seminars to build their knowledge base and competencies. Complement external coursework with internal training – from management basics to advanced strategic thinking sessions, to training and practicums on Getting to Insight.
Assign mentors to coach and advise as emerging leaders stretch into new responsibilities. Enable job shadowing across multiple departments to broaden perspectives. Rotation programs also expand exposure, as does participating in cross-functional committees. The more developing leaders receive well-rounded experience and individualized support, the more their managerial proficiency can advance.
Embrace Continuous Feedback
Leadership should encourage and guide constant growth. Providing regular, candid feedback is essential for nurturing leadership ability. Constructive criticism is a catalyst for change.
Set expectations from the outset for compassionate feedback to be a part of the development process at your organization—train managers on delivering constructive critiques. Do not condone personal attacks. Feedback should highlight strengths while providing suggestions to improve performance. Frame critiques as opportunities for improvement, never as punishment.
Emerging leaders should know managers have their back even if efforts fail. This support will help create a trustworthy, thriving environment instead of a culturally contracted, fear-based one. The more well-rounded the provided perspective, the faster leaders can self-correct and evolve. View robust feedback loops as a healthy means for accelerated development.
Create a Culture of Accountability
Unfortunately, because of the possibility of reprisal from executives and senior management, people fear the consequences of taking ownership of mistakes in many companies. This fear creates a congested, stifled, disengaged company culture.
A confident culture presents a prime opportunity for you to catalyze an organizational transformation.
Encourage an open culture where employees feel confident in being held accountable for their actions without fear. Instill appropriate risk-taking and ensure failure-learning is tolerated as part of the professional growth strategy. An atmosphere focused on nurturing homegrown leaders – not just punishing miscues – stimulates advancement. Encourage creativity, celebrate milestone successes, and maintain generative momentum.
Recognize and Celebrate Achievements
A pat on the back goes a long way!
Publicly acknowledging the wins of rising talent reinforces leadership behaviors and fuels further development. Look for ways, large and small, to consistently recognize high-potential employees for their growth initiatives. For example, call out instances where promising leaders sponsored an innovation, overcame an obstacle, broke a record, or found an efficiency.
Share stories highlighting such progress during company meetings, internal communications, and through your management networks. When blossoming talent is loudly cheered – often for meritorious breakthroughs – those cheers stimulate leadership acumen and animate the tools to eventually steer your organizational ship with insight, integrity, and conviction.
Leadership guru John C. Maxwell recognized, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Inspiring authentic leadership today impacts the elevation and growth of your organizational culture. To reach new heights, we hope for emerging leaders to take mentoring initiatives, thoughtfully and intentionally developing others.
The tools and strategies outlined above can significantly enable progress, yet the research, ideation, and application rely on you and your team.
Contact me if you want to explore your role in empowering leaders who will one day chart the new course to corporate achievement. The choice to uplift your organization – indeed, to uplift the world – is yours!