Finding great leaders for your business is a tricky task. Not only do they need excellent communication skills and sufficient background in your industry, they also need to mesh with and help to drive your company culture while earning the respect of their team. For many smaller businesses, particularly those in smaller or technical industries, finding the right fit on the open labour market can turn out to be impossible.
Fortunately, leadership talent isn’t nearly as rare as actual experienced leaders. A growing business can save time and resources by identifying and developing potential leaders within their own organisation.
Identifying natural talent
Before you can develop the talent that’s available to you, you’ll need to identify which of your current employees show potential for becoming good managers. It’s tempting to pick out the most productive employees and to designate them as great potential leaders, but this is unlikely to produce good results. Competence doesn’t just passively rub off, and someone who is great at their job isn’t necessarily going to have the leadership skills needed to make their team successful.
A natural leader is likely to be well-organised and good at their job, but they won’t necessarily be the most productive person on the floor. Natural leaders are team players that aren’t just focused on their personal success. Instead, they’ll take the time to support and empower their co-workers, while also maintaining excellent communication with both their relevant coworkers and superiors. Additionally, these individuals will proactively point out and seek to address potential problems, and take responsibility for their own mistakes. They’re likely to be well-liked and respected, and naturally tend to be viewed as trustworthy authority figures by their coworkers.
Provide hands-on experience
Great talent still needs to be tested and developed before you can make a decision about who will make the best fit for a leadership role in your organisation. Once you’ve selected a group of potential candidates, you’ll need to work on shaping them into the leaders you need.
A good way to start doing this is to challenge them with new responsibilities, and to place them into temporary leadership roles to help diversify their skillsets and stretch their horizons. There are a lot of different ways to do this. For example, to develop these communication and coaching skills, you might put them in charge of a client meeting, have them take the lead on an internal project, or put them in charge of training a new co-worker.
It’s also a good idea to train your potential leaders to acquire new skills quickly, and to be adaptable. A great way to do this is to temporarily rotate them through different job roles to give them a better understanding of how different parts of your business operate, and to force them to adapt and become effective in many different types of situations. This will also place them in awkward and difficult positions, which could bring out issues that need to be addressed through direct feedback and coaching.
Provide guidance and coaching
Offering these growth opportunities will help your potential leaders develop their skills on their own, but to get the full benefit they’ll also need active support and feedback on how to improve. Be available, and offer advice on how to deal with tricky situations. For example, someone who hasn’t been in a real leadership position before is unlikely to instinctively know how to handle disciplinary issues, poor morale, or a dissatisfied client. By sitting down with these individuals, sharing your experience, and offering your guiding perspective you’ll be able to instill your own management philosophy into your future leaders.
Additionally, you’ll be able to directly educate them about your vision for what your company’s larger goals are, and how they can help to advance the organisation as a whole. This is important, because it’ll help you create a cohesive management team that understands their collective purpose in the grand scheme of things.
Let talent interact, and see who takes charge
If you’re doing this well, it’s very likely that you’ll reach a point where you have more qualified leaders than you have open positions. It might not be immediately obvious who the best choices are for the positions you’re trying to fill.
While it’s not dangerous to simply favour employees with seniority at this stage, you can also stratify your candidates by allowing them to interact. Have candidates work together on a project without specifying a hierarchy, and simply observe who naturally falls into the mentoring leadership role to determine whose leadership skills are more developed. This is also a transparent way to illustrate the unstated but naturally existing hierarchies in your organisation, which can help to reduce any frustration on the part of candidates who aren’t selected in the end.
By developing and empowering leadership talent within your business, you’ll be able to play a formative role in the types of leaders they become. As a result, you’ll be able to build a more unified and ideologically consistent leadership team and company culture.