How to Spot and Nurture Future Leaders
Your business will only continue to succeed with the right future leaders.
Your business may be doing just fine right now. But you can’t expect it to continue succeeding 10 or 20 years from now if you’re not identifying and developing future leaders. Companies that make this effort find it pays off in big ways, says Kelli Baxter, principal at Naples-based Value Generation Partners, which offers coaching, consulting and training services for businesses.
“We’ve seen so many organizations that have not tapped into the knowledge that’s walking around in the heads of their veteran employees,” she says. “If it’s not being tapped, what’s going to happen when they leave? The organizations that really get it and are very successful are doing this very well. Those that aren’t are really struggling when those veteran associates walk out the door, and thus goes 30 years of expertise about customers, processes and systems inside the organization.”
Working to develop the next generation of leaders at your firm helps with everything from employee retention to diversity. “You want people to represent all kinds of ways of thinking,” says Baxter. “If all your leaders act the same, if they’re all 70 years old and white males, is your company viable into the future?”
Baxter shared her key tips for spotting employees with leadership potential and developing that potential to create individuals capable of leading your firm into the future.
CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR SELF-SELECTION
“You want to choose people who have leadership potential and want to develop it,” says Baxter. Without that combination, you could be fighting a losing battle. She suggests things like offering brown- bag luncheons led by senior staffers
that explore leadership topics. “See who’s asking all the questions” she says. “Those who are interested in seeking out opportunities for development will start to bubble up and identify themselves.”
DON’T PUT ALL OF YOUR EXPECTATIONS ON YOUR HIGHEST-PERFORMING EMPLOYEES
Baxter says your best salespeople or assembly-line managers don’t always have dreams of being the future leaders at your company. “People identify those star performers and automatically assume that they want to become leaders,” she says. “But there could be another career path for that person to stay within their area of expertise and take on more responsibility, but not necessarily a leadership role.”
LOOK FOR FUTURE LEADERS AMONG YOUR MILLENNIAL EMPLOYEES
You’ll probably find plenty of younger staffers interested in expanding their leadership skills. “Millennials want to be challenged and to contribute and be engaged,” says Baxter. “What better way to get them engaged, tap into their creativity, and challenge them?”
BUT REALIZE THAT LEADERS CAN BE FOUND AT ALL STAFF LEVELS
You could have midcareer staffers who either weren’t offered leadership opportunities at their previous employers or weren’t ready for them until this point in their career. “Maybe before they were raising a family and didn’t want the extra responsibility and time commitment,” says Baxter. “Now they’re empty-nesters and want to explore this.”
GIVE FUTURE LEADERS THE CHANCE TO DEVELOP THEIR SKILLS
Baxter suggests creating teams to tackle short projects for your organization and asking a less- experienced staffer with leadership potential to head one up. “But you can’t just assume they know what to do to lead a project team,” she says. “You have to have someone along the sidelines to be a good sponsor to them who can coach and guide them, because this may be the first project they’re leading. Don’t set them up to fail.”
MAKE GOOD MENTORING MATCHUPS
The right pairing leads to greater success. “The mentor and mentee have to have a connection of some sort at some level that makes them want to spend time together,” says Baxter. “There has to be a fit. If that fit is there, the mentor will do whatever they can to help the mentee, and the mentee will do whatever the mentor suggests.”