Over the last several years, numerous reports have been published proclaiming that there is a leadership shortage. If true, this should be a concerning issue. More than ever, businesses are facing increased competition and disruption. No wonder so many studies, like this one from Deloitte and LinkedIn, have found that developing leadership is a top priority.
The thing is, successful companies don’t go out and recruit people to fill these gaps. The best businesses grow their own leaders. A business can turn its employees into leaders by using the following ten strategies.
1. Make a smart investment.
When interviewing candidates, imagine them being a part of your organization years down the road. Don’t just think of them for what you are hiring them for, think of them as a leader and view them as such. Do they have that potential?
Sure. You can’t predict the future. But, what’s the point in investing in an employee if you’ve trained them up for a competitor? Or, what if they have the talent — but aren’t a good fit for your company culture? You’re going to not only have to let them go, but you’ll also have to go through the hiring process all again.
When hiring potential employees, make sure that they possess the skills that you need both now and in the future. The new employee needs to gel with your company’s culture and be excited about your products and services. You should check their references to see if they are trustworthy and have integrity.
When you find the ideal candidate — do all that you can to retain them. Paying them a competitive salary and offering perks that they care about are prominent places to start.
2. Know who they are.
Another way to hold on to your top talent and potential leaders is to get to know them better. Discover their strengths and weaknesses. Find out what motivates and interests them inside and outside of work. Stay connected with them and ask how they’re doing.
Knowing your team on a deeper level creates a more positive work environment. It also shows that you genuinely care about your employees. You can also use this knowledge to begin shaping and inspiring them to become a leader. For example, if they lack communication skills — then you could show them the basics of nonverbal communication and recommend that they take a public-speaking class.
Not sure how to do this? Well, you could have informal chats with your team during breaks. Invite them to lunch or schedule a one-on-one walking meeting. Ask for their feedback through surveys. And, you could also have monthly team-building activities where you get to understand who they indeed are. You may even get to see their hidden talents in-action.
3. Help them drop bad habits.
“Habits play an important role in our health,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding the biology of how we develop routines that may be harmful to us, and how to break those routines and embrace new ones, could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviors.”
At work, you could steer them towards more healthy routines. For example, you could suggest that they implement a morning routine where they exercise and eat a healthy breakfast, instead of sleeping in and grabbing a doughnut. Another idea would be letting them know the importance of work-life balance by not sending them emails when they’re not working.
Additionally, you could show your employees how to change their routines to be more productive. For instance, as opposed to checking your phone every time you receive a notification, block out specific times for this action. Encourage them to work on their most important tasks when they have the most energy.
And, you could also help them break those bad habits that are holding them back from work. Examples would include never taking breaks, always being late, making excuses, and preferring only to work alone. You wouldn’t want to see these habits in an employee, let alone a leader who is supposed to be setting an example.
4. Teach and encourage them to network.
“Networking is not only fun but essential to individual growth and business development,” writes Andre Lavoie in a previous Entrepreneur article. “Start small by encouraging networking within the workplace during lunch hours or at after-work events.” When they feel more comfortable, have them go outside of your organization by attending industry events.
“Networking will teach them how to forge powerful connections, initiate conversations with strangers, and act with the confidence of a leader.” The power of networking can open the door to new business opportunities and gives your team the chance to exchange ideas. And, “networking can help turn good employees into great leaders by raising their reputation within the industry,” adds Lavoie.
5. Provide plenty of opportunities for them to learn.
The only way that your employees are going to develop both the hard and soft skills to become a leader is through proper training. You can’t go wrong with tried and true techniques like formal education and training. You could also pay for them to attend workshops and industry events. Another idea would be to suggest consuming content like books, blogs, podcasts, or videos that could help them improve upon their weaknesses.
Personally, I learn best by doing. So, delegate some of your responsibilities to them. You could also let them take over an upcoming meeting. You’ll want to be there to guide your employees as they navigate new skills — but allow them to fail a bit. After all, failure is often the best teacher.
6. Find time to mentor.
As a leader, being a mentor within your organization is a must. Besides being beneficial and rewarding on your end — it’s one of the best ways to boost the careers of your employees. Mainly mentoring provides opportunities for you to pass on your knowledge bass to potential leaders.
As a mentor — you’ll help mentees set and achieve short-and-long-term goals. You’ll also be there to help them work through any difficulties. And, because you’re their biggest fan, cheerleader, and advocate — you can motivate and reassure them when they stumble.
If you don’t believe that you have the availability or know-how to be a mentor — that’s not a problem. Refer this individual to someone who you think can guide them — don’t just toss them out.
7. Encourage decisiveness and accountability.
If you are continually micromanaging and criticizing your leader-in-training, they will fall.
“One important trait of being a leader is the ability to make decisions and to be accountable for your actions,” writes Lolly Daskal. “When you give your employees autonomy and authority, you’re telling them you trust them.” As a result, they’ll “step up and surprise you with how much they can do if they know you are counting on them.”
8. Help navigate organizational politics and culture.
“Although ‘politics’ is often viewed as a dirty word, it’s the way things get done in organizations,” writes Dan McCarthy for Balance Careers. “Your staff needs to know this and learn to navigate the office culture.”
How can you achieve this? McCarthy suggests job shadowing and role-playing as “ways to educate employees about the ins and outs of being politically savvy.”
I’d also add that you must get everyone on the same page regarding company policies and standards. And make sure to cultivate a positive work environment where respect and transparency are the norms.
9. Keep them well.
When your employees aren’t at 100%, either physically or mentally, their productivity and overall well-being suffer. So, if they’re sick, tired, and burned out in their current position — you can’t expect them to thrive in their work now nor the future leadership role. It takes a long time to rehire — consider keeping your employees well, both mentally and physically.
You can encourage your employees to prioritize their health by launching an employee wellness program. You could also promote preventive care, provide healthy snacks, and encourage them to be more physically active. Other options would be to show them how to manage their stress correctly and where to seek help when needed.
Most importantly, I would suggest that you be open about your own health struggles, especially when it comes to mental health since this will remove any stigmas. There has been a lot of research showing that people want their employers to discuss mental health, especially if you have Millennial and Gen Z employees.
10. Teach them practical time management skills.
If your employees are struggling with time management now — then how will they fare once in a leadership position? From my experience, not very well. You can help your team solve their time management problems by setting clear expectations and timelines.
Train your employees well in time management right in the beginning and recommend they conduct a time audits continually. Suggest that they protect their maker time. I’d also share with them a variety of time management techniques that have worked for you. Examples would be prioritizing goals, eating the frog, the 80/20 rule, block scheduling, and saying “no.”