How to Develop Future Leaders from Emerging Managers to Executives

BUSINESS & MANAGEMENT, CAREER ADVICE   |   4 minutes  |   February 27, 2019

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With the onset of Industry 4.0 – where machines are learning and getting smarter, are connected and communicate with one another, and can make decisions with very little human input1 – comes a move away from the more traditional, bureaucratic style of senior management to a flatter, more inclusive, value-centric leadership focus.2 But can organisations shift from having managers to creating true leaders? Here are some practical ideas and steps to acquire, develop, and retain emerging leaders in an organisation.

Typically, when an organisation wants to grow its leadership, it hires from outside. However, organisations would benefit from looking internally when recruiting as there are potentially many people who have the skills and leadership aptitude required. Plus, these people have already adopted the company’s culture and are familiar with internal processes. With a bit of training, these people can exhibit the leadership style and influence that the business needs.3

Identify upcoming leaders

Out of 400 managers questioned in a recent survey, 66% of them ranked leadership as the most important skill to develop in their employees.4

Proactively seeking out potential leadership can be done by reviewing the track record of individual members of your team, or by simply regarding your team with a fresh eye that is focused on discovering hidden leadership traits, or by asking the members of the team who the natural leaders are.5

Follow this guideline on what to look out for:

  1. Recognise the informal leader in the team. These people are trusted by their managers as well as their peers. They are also emotionally stable and listen well which makes them easy to follow.6
  2. Notice the subject matter expert (SME) in your team. Those who are consistently strong in a certain task or topic usually have leadership qualities.7
  3. Who do new team members look to for help? The individuals who help new employees settle in to tasks, team culture, and so on, or who have shown an interest in mentoring juniors, are leadership material.8
  4. Who is self-motivated and accountable? These team members constantly come up with ways to solve not only their own challenges, but those of the team. Should these ideas fail, there is no blame placed on anyone else. These are key traits of an emerging leader.9

Develop existing managers into new leaders

Leaders are innovative, and open-minded about new ideas.

If you are looking to improve skills in relevant functional departments, fill skills gaps, or just develop talent in the company for better staff retention, then look to your existing managers and develop them into leaders.

Help managers work on these characteristics:

  1. Focus on your internal dialogue – Align your own passion, motivation, and commitment to the company’s vision, this will help lead and inspire others in your team to do the same.10
  2. Step outside of your role – Leaders do whatever they can to help their team get the job done. That could be anything from doing a coffee run late at night to help meet a tight deadline, to creating opportunities for a member of the team to shine in an area that they are showing promise in.11
  3. Delegate and collaborate – Leaders trust that their team is competent and innovative and that they are the right people for the job. Trusting them wisely with responsibility is a move away from managing, towards leadership.12 Introduce your team to collaboration by creating a small project where you are not in charge, but act as a participant. Showing your team that you respect their ideas and approach will build trust even more and cement your role as a trustworthy leader.13
  4. Step outside your comfort zone – Being in the same company for a while can become comfortable. Leaders are innovative, and open-minded about new ideas. So if something new or foreign comes across your path, asses it for its potential value, and make a decision based on data, not on emotion.14

Train potential leaders

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If your primary role in an organisation is to improve staff efficiency and company profitability through staff retention, then developing future leaders will help you achieve your company’s objectives and remain competitive and profitable. Once you have identified your emerging leaders, here’s how to upskill them.

  1. Stretch to grow – Create a learning environment by exposing your potential leaders to scenarios that are outside of their expertise. This will expand their knowledge and hone their skills.15
  2. Mentor them as they mentor others – According to Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, and author of Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others, people are drawn to leaders who will coach them to greater success. Coach your new leaders so that they can succeed, and in the process, increase their own capacity to coach and mentor others to drive daily change in the business.16

Retain and nurture leaders

Personal development, and leadership development, is a key incentive and motivator…

Whether you’re in Human Resources and need to inspire continued growth within a company through leadership development programmes, or you are in an executive role and want to prevent skills gaps and improve you and your team’s skills, retaining your leaders is a key focal point to ensure business success. Try these:

  1. Reward and recognise – Acknowledgement of outstanding leadership in your business will encourage potential leaders and inspire others. This can be verbal praise delivered personally or in a team meeting, or can be shown through a salary increase or promotion.17
  2. Welcome failure – As leadership is nurtured and developed, mistakes are bound to happen. Create an environment where mistakes are not punished when owned up to, but are rather turned into teachable moments.18
  3. Continue investing in leadership – Personal development, and leadership development, is a key incentive and motivator, and will ensure your leadership talent is constantly improving and that you are seeing organisational growth.19

Matt Rizzetta, CEO of North 6th Agency, says, “Build a culture where rising stars are identified, groomed and emerge as leaders. The end result will be an organisational chart that constantly flows upward, showing non-stop movement, promotion opportunities and a trajectory that always points toward progress.”20

By identifying the potential leaders in your business, and nurturing the leadership qualities in them, your company will enjoy smart succession planning, assist your team’s growth, and gain a competitive advantage over the competition. More than that, they will nurture the next generation of leaders from within.21

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  • 2 Perry, D., & Wiens, R. ‘Leadership for an industry 4.0 world’. Retrieved from Financial Management Society.
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  • 7 Lane, K., Larmaraud, A., & Yueh, E. (Jan, 2017). ‘Finding hidden leaders’. Retrieved from McKinsey.
  • 8 Kuhel, B. (Mar, 2018). ‘How to spot a potentially amazing leader within your team’. Retrieved from Forbes.
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  • 13 Foley, A. (Jul, 2017). ‘Strategic leadership: The 5 characteristics of a good leader’. Retrieved from ClearPoint Strategy.
  • 14 Foley, A. (Jul, 2017). ‘Strategic leadership: The 5 characteristics of a good leader’. Retrieved from ClearPoint Strategy.
  • 15 Schwantes, M. (May, 2017). ‘How to teach your employees to be good leaders’. Retrieved from Inc.
  • 16 Bachelder, C. (May, 2018). ‘How are you coaching your people?’. Retrieved from Cheryl Bachelder.
  • 17 (Jan 2017). ‘How to retain your leadership talent’. Retrieved from EEF.
  • 18 Richards, L. (Apr, 2018). ‘Retain your top employees by being a great leader’. Retrieved from Recruiter.
  • 19 (Dec, 2017). ‘13 reasons to offer training and leadership development to millenials’. Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 20 Fallon N. (Jun, 2017). ‘3 important things to teach your future leaders’. Retrieved from Business News Daily.
  • 21 Ayers, R. (May, 2017). ‘How to identify potential leaders among your employees’. Retrieved from Leader Values.