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Developing Leaders

Leadership development is one of those principles you've heard and read about a thousand times. You know that strong leadership drives your company, and you'd like to build a stellar team from within. But where do you start?

First, it's crucial to understand leadership development must start at the top. Development efforts won't succeed without full support from management. And paying lip service to the idea is not enough. Beyond merely endorsing the notion, senior managers must take an active role in planning — and effecting — leadership development activities.

Here are some tips to help you foster leadership in your organization:

  1. Ensure senior management's commitment. As noted above, making sure senior management are on board is the first step. It's easier — and cheaper — to train and promote from within than to seek (and pay for) external candidates for leadership roles. Once leadership development is established as a company priority, earmark a portion of your budget specifically for leadership training.
  2. Design leadership training that reflects your overall business strategy. Leadership development efforts should support the company's goals. You'll want to instil in your emerging leaders the qualities and capabilities that will help your organization most.  Think about what skill sets will most benefit your company, whether they are service excellence, relationship-building, business development or technical prowess. Then focus leadership training specifically on cultivating those abilities in your staff.
  3. Identify high performers early on. Assess your talent pool using regular performance reviews and overt observation. Monitor staff at busy times and during slow ones to get a full picture of their abilities, performance and commitment. From here, it will become clear who you'll want to target for leadership development.
  4. Discuss your plans with those individuals. If you don't raise the issue of development early enough, a high performer may grow bored and become disengaged in their current role. Next, they'll be looking for new opportunities outside your company. You don't want to wait for a performance review to talk about the potential in increased duties and responsibilities or career paths for your employees.  Instead, let them know you recognize their potential and are prepared to help them develop new skills. 
  5. Create mentoring opportunities for emerging leaders. Experienced leaders are a wonderful resource for those who are just learning the ropes.  Help cultivate these important relationships by matching your emerging leaders with current ones. Schedule job shadowing sessions, shared lunch breaks or other informal get-togethers where knowledge and advice can be shared.   
  6. Assign leadership candidates growth roles. Help new leaders develop their skills by giving them new areas of responsibility. Ask them to lead a special project or committee on a trial basis. For example, ask them to plan a staff event or customer appreciation night. Give them a preview of what leadership roles are like by letting them experience one first-hand.
  7. Track new leaders' progress. As leaders emerge from training initiatives, meet to share feedback and offer assistance. Examine their performance in new roles, and use concrete objectives and metrics to gauge results. Have they successfully helped to reduce costs or improve customer service, or shown they can guide colleagues through a sales campaign? Explore additional developmental roles and decide together on activities that will push boundaries and expand skill sets.

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Developing leaders is a complex activity requiring foresight and commitment. While the idea may seem daunting at first, you can trust the payoff will be well worth your investment. A focused strategy that allows you to develop strong leaders will benefit your business enormously.  Not only will each leader's expanded skill set help your business to excel, you'll understand how to bring a continuous stream of talent into your organization's higher ranks. That's an excellent prospect for your company's future.

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