The greatest leaders teach others to lead. That’s all that leadership really is, right? Making space at the top for the next generation of thinkers, shapers, managers, and innovators is ultimately what we want to accomplish in our work. So how do we ensure we’re finding the right talent and grooming it well for the big job that lays before them: YOUR job.
Identifying talent is, of course, your first challenge. Some stars will shine at you; others need to be uncovered. But you know them when you encounter them. They’re not just hard-working, smart, and eager. They’re also open-minded, positive, and excited about the unknown.
So when you get them, here’s what to do with them to ensure you’re building the strongest foundation you can for the leaders of tomorrow, next week, or next year.
Knowing how to network is, as you know, an essential skill. Being able to introduce yourself assertively and confidently, engage in sincere conversation, and knowing how to articulate who you are and what you do are invaluable street-smarts skills that all great leaders have mastered.
Teach your staff what you already know so well: that networking isn’t just about shaking hands. It’s about listening with purpose, making connections of quality (not quantity), and sharing information in a way that’s useful or helpful to others and not just advantageous to you. These lessons in emotional and social ability will prepare your staff for the adjacent job of managing and leading.
Give them jobs you know they could mess up.
Many leaders make the understandable mistake of holding all the important work close to their chests. Nobody has an excess of staff these days, and your time is valuable.
But offloading the occasional Big Job to a staff member in development can be a huge learning experience for you both. Let them mess up. Let them clean up the messes they make. Encourage and observe, but give them enough space and support to finish the job as it needs to be finished.
This will confer a sense of confidence, build trust, and strengthen their skills while adding new ones.
Make time to meet.
Check in regularly to evaluate the work of your staff members. Encourage self-examination while offering your own critiques and guidance. Ask probing questions about what’s motivating their work, what influences them, and what they’re passionate about. Set small goals and adjust them as your development work continues.
Performance reviews are out. Those annual slogs everyone dreads are miserable to do—can you even remember what meaningfully happened in a year?—and it turns out employees enjoy having regular evaluations. It gives them a sense of orientation and purpose.
Pair or group them.
Give them the opportunity to lead in small groups or pairings, learning delegation and conflict-resolution on a small, contained scale. Rotate staff around to positions of leadership within these arrangements to give everyone an opportunity at running the show. Make observations, quietly, to make note of how and whether people are progressing. (This is an especially useful exercise if your stars are still being uncovered.)
Create a mentoring program.
Allow for open coaching and training among your staff. Let them experience what it’s like to share knowledge—and to receive it. After all, leading is so much about following the cues of the environment around you and responding to them appropriately. Through mentorship and experimentation, your whole staff will gain new perspectives and skills, which is good for you. You don’t want to be here forever, do you?
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