Employees can develop leadership abilities entirely on their own initiative. But it is more likely to happen if you create a comprehensive leadership development program. Like career development itself, identifying and nurturing potential leaders can prove central to your business’s success — and its future.
To begin building a leadership development plan, consider the following questions:
Do you have or anticipate any leadership gaps? Consider what may be (or will be) missing within your organization in terms of leadership attributes and characteristics. In other words, what kind of traits does it take to keep your organization humming?
A big factor could be the retirement of Baby Boomers, which may cause a gap between middle-level and senior-level managers because the next group of workers, Generation X, is smaller. This could result in a shortage of leadership talent at your business.
Some companies create “leadership tracks” that address different leadership gaps, assigning executive-level sponsors with expertise in each area to help design, socialize, and champion each track. Tracks may include such areas as leading and motivating teams, clarity in communication, or business development.
How will the program link to organizational goals and strategic objectives? How will leadership development assist your organization in meeting your goals? For instance, are you looking to grow financially, structurally, or in some other fashion? Sync your leadership development program to those priorities.
Are you thinking long term? Be sure to address both short- and long-term goals. Too often, companies think about filling a particular role and overlook longer-term needs. Focus instead on developing a “bench” of talent versus grooming people for specific roles only.
Most leadership development programs include some kind of mentoring, training, and organizational future planning. Individual activities can include coaching, rotational assignments, job shadowing, project leadership, classroom training (such as MBA programs, executive education, and online courses), and other options. External coaches and business school programs can be helpful (especially for larger organizations with commensurate budgets), but most successful companies don’t outsource leadership development.
Even internally, HR shouldn’t run the whole show. Internal programs can be created to combine structural elements built by HR with the active participation of senior managers who are considered leadership role models as coaches and mentors. To offer hands-on experience, allow leadership candidates to head up meetings and direct the office when other leaders are away.
Leaders can come from a variety of sources, including staff-level employees, as well as current leaders who want to move up even farther or improve at the job they’re in. Make all employees aware that the opportunity is there if they have the potential and the desire to pursue it.