Good business starts with good leadership – and solid businesses continue best when a pipeline of good leaders is in place.
But, how does a business cultivate such a pipeline? How can we attract and retain people with leadership potential in our companies? The answers are complex.
Recognizing the need. Many companies fail to recognize the need for new or additional leadership in time to plan for it. In most companies, leaders are already in place, and they generally like being the leaders.
There may not be a specific plan in place to rotate roles or train successors. What often happens is that people with leadership potential get tired of waiting for an opportunity, so they leave. When the current leadership finally realizes the need, they have to go outside of the company to recruit their replacements.
Feeding the passion. Strong leaders may have a difficult time allowing up-and-coming leaders to develop their leadership skills while waiting for the “big break.”
Leadership is needed throughout an organization, not just at the top. Companies who can provide leadership-learning opportunities for those who aspire to be leaders will keep them engaged more effectively. The companies will also benefit from the lessons the would-be leaders learn along the way.
Hiring for potential. Larger companies have the ability to hire people into their Leadership Training Programs, rotating them through many areas to develop their skills and abilities. Smaller companies don’t often have the bandwidth to do so. Still, if a company wants to develop leaders within, some hires should be made with that in mind.
For example, strategic thinking skills may not be needed for the job currently being filled, but those skills will be needed in a leadership role. Looking for people with more ability and potential than is needed for the current job is prudent. At the same time, businesses have to help the individual understand that there will be a path to follow before those skills will be used extensively. As mentioned earlier, the company has to “feed the passion” along the way, while the employee grows into the leader of the future.
Providing training. Some people are born with leadership tendencies, but that does not mean they are equipped to lead. Companies who want to attract and retain leaders need to provide training in higher-level thinking, management techniques, and so on.
Much of this training will need to come from outside the organization, and the business should encourage participation and make the training available to those who want to be leaders. Some businesses fear that they are simply equipping people to go elsewhere. That may happen, but the alternative is to be left with future leaders without the training to be successful.
Providing feedback. Employees who aspire to be leaders need good feedback to help them succeed. Many of them crave such feedback because they know it will help them to develop. No news is not good news to employees who want to grow. Setting up a goal-setting process and periodic reviews will help keep them engaged and moving forward. Not doing so may cause them to look for opportunities elsewhere.
Promoting from within. Companies may say they want to cultivate leaders, but if they constantly hire from the outside when a leadership position arises, they prove themselves false. Employees with leadership potential and aspirations within the company quickly realize that their hopes of advancement are likely misplaced. They will leave.
If the company most often feels that internal candidates are not ready for advancement, the company must look at what it is doing to develop talent. While there may be times when a need arises before someone internal is ready, that should not always be the case if the company is truly planning and working to be a place where leaders can grow and thrive.
Letting go. One of the toughest things for leaders to do is to let go of their leadership responsibilities. Yet, that is the only way to let someone else take on those duties. Developing a transition process to bring new leaders into these official positions will help.
In some cases, allowing the upcoming leader to shadow the current leader will give both people confidence. Current leaders may be more willing to hand off responsibilities to employees they have groomed in this way. It is also important to prepare current leaders to move on to other things and to resist the urge to retake control. New responsibilities and challenges will keep the original leader focused on his or her own path.
Look back at your company’s history. Have you developed leaders internally? Look at your company’s future. Do you need to start developing leaders now? Don’t wait – building leadership skills takes time.