If you don’t have a leadership pipeline in place to develop talent internally, you’ll probably need to spend a lot of time searching for good outside talent when vacancies open up on your team – and you may find yourself in a situation where you can’t easily take on new challenges yourself because there’s no one to take on your current responsibilities. But if you invest the time to build a leadership pipeline on your team, you’ll have a ready supply of talent when new leadership opportunities open up – and you’ll likely have an easier time holding on to your top performers, because you’ll be creating a clearer career ladder for them.
Interested in building a leadership pipeline on your team? Here’s how.
1. Look for people on your team with leadership potential. A few traits to keep your eye out for are:
• Intense determination to get results, including persistence in the face of roadblocks, willingness to make hard decisions, and a desire to continuously learn and improve.
• Interpersonal and communication skills that will help them to influence others and build trust.
• The ability to see the big picture and to navigate the forest without getting distracted by the trees.
2. Give people structured and deliberate leadership experience in low-risk contexts. For example, you might have the person lead a meeting or a project, manage an intern, train a new employee, or teach something to others on the team. In doing this…
3. Coach and develop their leadership skills. Don’t just give people leadership responsibilities and leave them to it. Instead, spend time talking through challenges and possible approaches and giving advice. Tell them what you’ve learned and why you approach things certain ways, and help them to use you as a resource. And make sure to debrief afterwards, to help them process what they’re learned and carry lessons forward.
4. Give them an inside look at your own management role. One of the most powerful things you can do when grooming someone for leadership is to model effective management yourself, and to talk explicitly about what you’re doing and why. For example, you might invite the person to sit in while you conduct an important meeting or a job interview, and then talk afterwards about why you handled a tricky issue the way you did or what was in your head when topic X came up. Similarly, consider talking with the person about dilemmas you’re facing in your own job: the options you’re considering, the factors you need to take into consideration, what you’re leaning toward deciding, and why. Ask for their take on specific dilemmas, and bat around their ideas with them. This can be hugely helpful in honing their own instincts.
5. Be okay with people struggling a bit. It’s important to remember that leadership skills may be quite different from the skills the person has used up until this point. Don’t assume that just because someone is, for example, an excellent salesperson that she’ll naturally excel at teaching people to sell; that’s where your coaching will come in and why it’s so important to stay engaged as your staff person takes on these new responsibilities. Because your staff person will be tackling whole new challenges, things likely won’t go entirely smoothly, and you’ll need to be comfortable with people making mistakes (which is why letting people practice in low-stakes contexts can be so helpful).