This post was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated with relevant resources and new information.
How can we best equip future leaders to lead? And to lead well?
We know that future leaders will play a pivotal role in our teams and organizations. We should be thinking and acting on how best to equip, encourage, and support them in critical roles like building alignment, problem solving, and vision casting. Luckily, we don’t have to leave leadership development to chance.
Here are 5 practical ways to equip future leaders to lead to their best ability:
1.Acknowledge their strengths. Identifying, understanding, and developing an individual’s strengths allows them to become a more effective leader. They need to understand that no one can be an expert in all areas. Instead of becoming overly focused on our weaknesses, it is a better use of our time to develop our natural talents and abilities. That’s why we work in teams—someone else’s strength can cover our weakness. We link in, support one another, and help fill in the gaps for our team members.
You can discuss a leader’s strengths at a formal annual review, however, we encourage you to have ongoing conversations throughout the year. When you invite the emerging leader to a new project, take that opportunity to explain what assets they bring to the team and why you look forward to their contributions. According to recent studies, next generation leaders (21 – 38 years old) desire continual feedback and coaching. They crave clarity. Being upfront about what you want them to keep doing, and what things they do well, is appreciated.
We also recommend utilizing the DiSC framework to help emerging leaders identify their personal communication style, motivators, and stressors. As they learn more about their own tendencies, they can also start to identify how best to communicate with other people on their team. We offer a variety of DiSC programs to help participants identify their own DiSC style and utilize it in various settings.
Discussing an emerging leader’s strengths is also a way to empower them through positive feedback. In a time when we’re constantly receiving negative input from the world around us, it is important to acknowledge what other people do well. Positive talk gives a good psychological boost and will build confidence for future projects.
2.Let them fail. Without failure, there is no growth. Consider the beginnings of these notable icons: an editor fired Walt Disney because “he lacked imagination and had no original ideas.” JK Rowling’s manuscript of her first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 publishers. And Steve Jobs was asked (forced) to leave his own company.
It takes failure to know what’s possible. Explain to an emerging leader that failure doesn’t mean everything is bad, it just means we know what won’t work. We are free to try a different approach, or use the information we learned and put it to use in a new direction. Aspiring leaders don’t want to fail, but it’s our job to help them understand that failure creates new possibilities.
As leaders, we need to acknowledge that everything will not go as planned. Set expectations early, and let your emerging leader know they will need to be flexible. We expect things to change, and that’s okay. They must understand that communication through the change process is important, it allows the team to pivot and adjust.
3.Give them ownership. Delegate tasks to emerging leaders and encourage ownership. Dushyant Josh, founder of Azure Knowledge, preaches this. He believes that growing leaders need to see how lives and livelihoods actually depend on the decisions being made in order to recognize the human element in leadership. He says, “We offer tremendous freedom for employees to make decisions, and we then back them up right or wrong. At the same time, we allow them to make corrections if their decision proves to be wrong. After all, how will you taste success if you have not tasted failure?”
It’s often difficult for leaders to delegate tasks. We think that because we’ve always done something, and we know how to do it best, that it’s somehow best and easiest if we continue doing that task. Instead, we need to consider Which of these tasks are things that only I can do? Who on my team could take on certain tasks that would give them an opportunity to grow?
And as we delegate items to emerging leaders, we need to set them up for success. Help them understand the “why” behind the task, “how” best to do it, and “what” our expectations are. It’s okay if they complete the task differently than we would, as long as it achieves the same result.
4.Encourage their leadership potential. Leadership is developed. It doesn’t happen by accident. Take intentional steps to encourage an emerging leaders’ potential, and consider where you can step out of certain things so that they can step in. Our Lead to the Max!® coaching program is tailor-made for emerging leaders and can be a powerful start to your team member’s growth.
Don’t forget that promotion requires support. Take every opportunity not to tell an emerging leader what to do, but instead ask them questions and let them figure out how to move forward. If they don’t have the tools or know how to move forward, then provide training opportunities. Make a plan for continuous empowerment and professional development throughout the year for your emerging leader.
5.Be a leader worth following. Setting a strong example is at the core of encouraging leadership in others. One way to improve your leadership abilities is through one-on-one coaching. A personal conversation can reveal areas for growth and help you identify your leadership tendencies. A coach can also help you think outside what you do every day and learn more about lifelong topics like innovation, talent, or collaboration.
As you consider your leadership legacy, take some time to consider your own EQ, or emotional intelligence. Ask yourself: How do I want to show up this year? How am I currently showing up for myself, my peers, and my organization? On a broader scale, look at your leadership shadow—what are you casting onto others. What do I want other people to say and feel while working with me?
Finally, good leaders understand the difference between leading and managing. Both are critically important and belong in different scenarios. Our The Exceptional Leader™ program dives into this topic in more detail.
Are you actively equipping your future leaders? Here’s one potential first step:
The Exceptional Leader™—Excel program is designed for today’s business leaders with integrated responsibilities of company leadership. Built on the principles of the Work of Leaders® Assessment, candidates will enhance their credibility to motivate, inspire, and align others.
Over the course of 4 months and 4 sessions, candidates will broaden their understanding of leadership principles, deepen their confidence to take on greater responsibility and return to their organizations with a personal roadmap focused on the leader they want to be for others. You can learn more here.