Even those people who support the disputed theory that leaders are ‘born’ to excel, admit that environment and training are usually needed to develop successful leaders. Effective leaders are a vital ingredient to business, sports, medical, research, military, and all other team-oriented activities. The important questions, of course, are: Where do leaders come from? How do we find them? How can we identify them? How can we make them? The answers relate to recognizing talent and then encouraging, cultivating, and mentoring those potential leaders so that they can flourish in your organization. Explore the following strategies to help you and your organization succeed in this process…

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1. Consider what strategies you currently have in place in your organization.

To gauge what is required in terms of a leadership development program in your organization, you will need to answer the following questions:

• Does our company have a comprehensive plan for developing people as leaders?

• What are the benefits we would receive from having an effective leadership development strategy?

• What would it cost in lower morale, turnover, and lower productivity not to have one?

• What would a successful leadership development program look like for our company?

• How much time, energy, and money are we willing to invest to establish one?

2. Consider those people currently leading in your organization.

Think about the people who are or have been most successful at your company and ask: What kind of training experiences have they had? What kind of educational background do our most successful people have? How many years of experience in our line of work do they have? How do they fit in with our corporate culture? How would I describe their personality style? What best motivates them?

3. Start small.

Having now formed an outline of how you want to develop your leaders and what ‘success’ looks like for your organization, begin mapping out your strategy. Test your strategy by starting small, with a couple of employees with leadership potential and a desire to lead. You’ll need to be prepared to spend time with anyone prepared to make a commitment to their own ongoing growth and development.

4. Put the formal structures in place.

Nearly all successful programs have at least two core components: specific leadership training and organizational support through coaching and other strategies. You will need to plan how such structures will be implemented.

Formal training can include such elements as: effective business communication, conflict resolution skills, team building, handling different personality styles, time management, delegation skills, goal setting, critical coaching skills, and areas specific to your business.

Organizations can support the growth of talented employees by helping them stretch into leaders in the following ways:

Coaching – providing your potential leaders with the one-on-one attention needed to help take them to the next level quickly.

Mentoring – partnering a less experienced practitioner with a seasoned leader can create and sustain professional relationships, and model effective leadership strategies and skills that develop into leadership action.

Study groups – small groups of individuals, as equals with current leaders, who study a particular leadership topic or issue. Employees can gain leadership experience by taking responsibility for planning, organizing, and facilitating the group.

Planning together – collaborating on planning workshops, committees, and other events to learn the associated leadership skills. You should provide appropriate resources and offer ideas that will stretch potential leaders’ thinking.

Modeling leadership skills – You need to exhibit the qualities that you want to develop in others. Examples could include the following: Show up on time. Do as you say. Finish what you start. Be courteous. Know the business. Act with integrity. Be decisive. Be thorough. Exude self-confidence and courage. Humility. Be open to all possibilities…

After-action reviews – debriefing sessions that engage employee leaders in understanding what happened, what went well, what didn’t go well and why. For example, leadership skills will improve by having potential leaders analyze: what happened in today’s meeting or activity? in what ways were we effective? in what ways do we need to improve? what actions will we take to meet our goals?

5. Promote leadership development throughout the organization.

Once you have refined your program by working with a couple of potential leaders, you can begin promoting the program throughout the company. Start by making it known during the interview process with potential new employees. Many companies use their leadership development program to attract high-potential applicants who otherwise would go to larger organizations. Start highlighting and implementing aspects of the program with your current employees, drawing attention to leadership opportunities as they arise. Be careful to point out that your goal is for every employee to recognize his or her own leadership potential. Use your leaders to coach/mentor others and, where necessary, consider bringing in outside trainers/coaches to help bring out leadership qualities in your staff more effectively.

6. Remember also…

Provide opportunities. Learning to lead by leading

is recognized as an effective way of developing leadership qualities. Says Susan Cramm, of Valuedance Leadership Coaching: ’With promising leaders, you can just create space in front of them. If it plays into their interests, they will fill up that space.’ She created half a dozen new leadership roles on her senior management team to accommodate the talents and interests of her best and brightest.

Encourage volunteers. By volunteering for leadership roles, individuals will be identifying themselves for development opportunities.

Recognize and reward leadership development. People respond positively to types of recognition and reward that they value.

Use mistakes as learning opportunities. Mistakes should be used as valuable learning opportunities. Take time to engage with individuals to maximize learning from mistakes. Individuals will learn that they must accept responsibility for mistakes and ensure that the same mistakes are not unnecessarily repeated.

Disseminate literature. Keep a list of the best leadership materials and pass-on to others relevant literature and resources.

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