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Bosses: This is how to inspire your employees to become leaders

Aspiring leaders need help realizing their potential. Some simple day-to-day actions from managers can help.

Bosses: This is how to inspire your employees to become leaders
[Photo: Charlotte Karlsen/Unsplash]

Whether you have a formal leadership development plan in-house or not, there are some important ways those in supervisory and management roles can support developing leaders, says leadership development consultant Robb Holman, author of Lead the Way: Inside Out Leadership Principles for Business Owners and Leaders. Companies invest in leadership and personality assessments and other tools and programs, and may not follow through or revisit them consistently. But there are several ways that management teams can support developing leaders on a daily basis, he says.

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Know who they are

Leadership development starts with understanding the individual, says Kim Turnage, PhD, director, leadership consultant with Talent Plus, Inc., and coauthor of Managing to Make a Difference: How to Engage, Retain, and Develop Talent for Maximum Performance. Get to know what motivates them, what their goals are, and what interests them both in their work and outside the office, she advises.

“All of those things are part of understanding who that person is and having the kind of relationship that inspires discretionary effort in people—and that discretionary effort is those things that people can do that go above and beyond regular expectations,” she says. When you can inspire and align discretionary effort with what your business goals are, both the individual and the company benefit, she says.

Get good at conflict resolution

Conflict exists in every workplace. Whether it’s disagreement over career progression or a difference of opinion about the next steps on a project, conflict can either sap energy and damage relationships, or it can be resolved in a healthy manner with a better outcome as the result. If you’ve done a good job at developing a diverse organization with different viewpoints, healthy conflict resolution skills are essential to developing leaders, Holman says.

He adds that conflict resolution has three aspects:

“We’re just not good at listening because we think we know what people should do, and we just want to go in there and say, ‘This is what you should do and how you should do it,'” he says. “What does it mean to actually listen to the other side, the other party, without trying to chime anywhere along the way?” Holman says that role playing can help aspiring leaders get better at these skills.

Empower them

Having a measure of autonomy to make decisions in the workplace is a way to both identify leaders and help them develop, Turnage says. In every culture, there are people who do what’s expected of them and not much more, she says. “And then there are people who just naturally step forward and take more responsibility, take more initiative. Those are the people who have that real leadership potential,” she says.

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Look for ways to give employees more opportunities to solve problems, come up with ideas, or otherwise exert their influence in the workplace. Then, spend more time with the people who rise to the challenge, she says. It’s the “80/20 rule” applied to leadership development. These aspiring leaders are identifying themselves through their actions. Pay attention and invest in them accordingly, she says.

Get comfortable with coaching

A key element of leadership development is coaching, Holman says. Coaches can accelerate leadership development by providing guidance and helping aspiring leaders develop their own skill sets. Unfortunately, some people need to learn to accept that they need such guidance—or it’s simply not available to them. In fact, the Global Leadership 2018 report found that there is a mismatch when it comes to coaching and leadership development: External coaching is the No. 1 leadership development tool high-potential leaders want, while it’s ranked 8th on the list of what organization leaders think they need. More seminars and courses is on the top of organizations’ list of development tools.

Helping your next generation of leaders see the value of coaching and equipping them with the ability to seek out the coaches they need can enable them to get help quicker, Holman says. “I find the most gifted coaches may know the answer, but they ask the critical questions so the one on the other side has their own epiphany, and what happens is, the other side begins to rediscover certain things themselves by asking a question,” he says. It teaches them a new way to discover their own insights, he adds.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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