Here are four effective techniques to best help your employees develop as leaders:
Give Them The Tools and Training They Need
Learning to be a leader takes work. It won’t happen overnight. And it requires some tools and training. The most important tool you can provide is a list of the leadership qualities that you admire and that you want your employees to develop, along with some examples of what those qualities look like in action. The degree of training will depend on your employees’ existing skill level, as well as the resources available at your company. Even if there is no budget for leadership training, you can recommend books and other free or low-cost materials that will assist with leadership development. For example, Stephen R. Covey’s Principle Centered Leadership is a classic book on the topic and Roselinde Torres’s TED talk What it Takes to be a Great Leader is well worth watching.
Networking via professional and service organizations is a great way for employees to practice their leadership skills. Encourage your employees to join relevant groups and to become active members. By sitting on committees, running events, and participating in meetings, they will find opportunities to lead, that while perhaps not directly related to the work of your company, will help provide your employees with experience to lead others with confidence.
Allow Them To Struggle
One of the hardest things the parents of a toddler must do is watch their child fall down again and again as the toddler learns to walk. Similarly, there will most certainly be bruises and bumps along the way as your employees improve their leadership skills. What’s important is giving your employees regular opportunities to exercise their leadership muscles, and while they are doing so, allowing the employees to feel like they have ownership of the project and the process. While you should certainly give some guidance with regard to your expectations, it isn’t necessary to map out every step in advance or hold their hand too tightly. Let them get the feel for what a leadership role feels like. Let them toddle and waver and struggle. Maybe even let them sweat a bit. But whatever you do, resist the temptation to swoop in and take over.
Provide Ongoing Feedback
At the same time, though, sometimes when you are in the thick of things, it is easy to lose sight of the overall picture. So don’t wait for the annual review to provide feedback about what is working (and what isn’t) with regard to your employee’s growing leadership skills. Was today’s presentation a big success? Go ahead and heap on the praise, along with a couple of specific details about what made the sales pitch shine. If, on the other hand, your employee let the meeting get out of control, with a little too much whining from Eugene in accounting, you’ll want to gently discuss how to keep the meeting on track next time.
Of course you’ll want to make sure that you are providing the model of the leadership style you want your employees to follow. So pay attention to how you are interacting with those above and below you on the organizational chart. Ask your peers and your manager for feedback about your own leadership skills. If it turns out that you haven’t been exhibiting the kind of leadership qualities you want to see from your employees, it is time for a tune-up yourself. You can even use the four techniques above update your skills. After all, admitting to mistakes is a form of leadership in itself.