Identifying and developing your future leaders

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Would you prefer a family member babysit your kids or someone you’ve never met? Most people would prefer the former. That’s because your family usually has a better understanding of what your children need, what routines they follow and what they’ll need to keep their eyes on.

The same logic applies to your business. People from the inside often have a better grasp on what the organisation needs, where the leadership gaps lie and how best to care for the staff you have.

This is why identifying and developing future leaders from inside your business is so lucrative.

This is not to say that external hires are a bad choice, of course. But when you see in-house talent, you should capitalise on it. Why? Well, for starters, it’s something modern employees crave. Research from PwC found that millennials prefer professional development and career advancement opportunities over financial rewards or flexible working options.

On top of that, identifying and nurturing future leaders allows your company to secure viable succession plans. If another leader abruptly exits your organisation, having pre-developed leaders internally provides you with a viable (and well-trained) option to fill this role.

So, you’re sold. What next?

Part one: Identifying leadership potential

Plenty of leaders think the main indicator of potential leaders is high performance, but that’s not always the case. While this might be evidence of a strong team member, good numbers don’t always come packaged with leadership skills.

Leadership potential often has more to do with investment in the company as a whole. Ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What team members take the time to answer their colleagues questions?
  • Which employees attend staff meetings and come prepared with insightful questions?
  • Who do your other employees turn to with problems when management members aren’t available?

These types of qualities are the early signs of leadership potential. Focusing more on these indicators will point you in the direction of potential leaders that have the business skills AND the people skills.

Part two: Developing the future leaders in your business

So, you found some strong candidates. Now it’s time to give them the tools they need to thrive. The process is pretty straightforward – in fact, it can be boiled down into three core steps.

Step one: Start the conversation

As with most things, the path to leadership starts with a conversation. Once you identify leadership potential, pencil in a meeting with the relevant people. Explain to them what you see in them and gauge whether or not they’re interested in potentially developing their leadership skills. Remember, not everyone wants to be in a leadership role so it’s important to check in first.

If they are keen to step up, start a preliminary discussion about a development plan.

What kinds of things would they need to be doing to reach a leadership role?
What kind of role do they see themselves in within leadership – middle management, upper management, team leader?

Laying out a plan can help them hone their skill sets in a focused way.

Step two: Offer tailored training

Providing your team members with the resources they need to grow is the most important thing you can do. Not only does this show your employee that you are invested in their growth, but it also helps them build their skill sets to ultimately use within your organisation.

However, you can’t provide a one-size-fits-all approach to training. Each one of us as a learner is a unique human being with a unique learning style. Consider your own experience: you likely did much better in some school subjects than others, responded better to some teaching methods than others, and retained some material more accurately and for a longer period of time than other material delivered in a different way.

Your unique learning style is the result of the brain you were born with, combined with the years of experience that have developed into your own distinctive learning approaches over the course of your life. We know from our research that with any population of a significant size, you’ll find that the full spectrum of thinking and learning styles are represented.

As you curate content and determine what to make available to your potential leaders, particularly for those learning points that are absolutely essential, your best approach is to create a Whole Brain learning experience by offering a tapestry of methods that appeal to all thinking and learning preferences. From there, let your employees latch on to the training that works best for them!

Step three: Provide regular and actionable feedback

Once you have laid out a plan for development, you want to make sure you are regularly providing your future leaders with feedback. They need constructive criticism (as well as recognition) to keep building their leadership skills.

Employees today have a growing need for regular feedback and check-ins about performance. And we know from experience that continuous feedback loops are what build better leaders (and employees in general). Make sure to book in a recurring meeting with these staff members and run through key action items to keep them engaged with the growth process.