The long-term outcomes of the work you, as a manager or leader, are doing today rests with your company’s future leaders. Early and ongoing training, mentorship, and involvement in decision-making and future planning among employees, helps ensure the company or team mission and culture is carried out effectively in the future. An evolving team of future leaders prevents gaps in leadership, prepares employees for unexpected events where they may need to step up, allows for long-term planning, and fosters ongoing innovation and progress. Employees who feel they are growing professionally and are treated as future leaders will feel more invested in their work, loyal to the company, and satisfied on the job. Forward-thinking managers today will strengthen and develop the next generation of forward-thinking leaders.
Training future leaders is an ongoing process. Here are some ways to train them:
- Make leadership development part of the company culture. Integrate techniques into your own work practices that will sharpen employee skills and give them practice in leadership roles. Allow employees to shadow you and eventually stand in for you for running selected meetings or completing different management tasks. Strong employees know to go to their manager or lead when they come across an issue, rather than ignore it or go too far down a questionable road. When employees come to you with an issue, talk them through the solution and perhaps allow some trial and error before fixing it for them. Set aside time to be a mentor. Aside from or as a set part of any regular 1:1 employee-manager meetings, make time to talk about the employee’s growth and skill development going beyond the laundry list of weekly deliverables.
- Match training with potential. Managers may also want to take a more strategic and specialized approach to developing selected leaders. This can be targeted by specific leadership role, by qualities of the individual with leadership potential, or a combination of both. Starting with predictive assessments for leadership potential, managers can identify which employees are likely to gravitate towards and elevate in different areas of the company and how successfully they may fit different leadership needs.
- Maintain a feedback loop. Feedback loops are helpful for many reasons. Regular individual engagement with employees creates a trust and rapport that allows managers and employees to identify the individual’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential, and allows constructive criticism to be more constructive and less surprising or distracting. Iteratively sharpening skills, addressing challenges as they first emerge allows a growth employees can own, catches issues early to stop them from becoming bigger problems, and fosters the self-awareness needed in a leader.
Reflect on the types of skills and work that are critical to your leadership role; do your employees exercise all of these skills regularly? Would there be someone to fill in for you for each of your required tasks? Just as each company is unique, so are the skills required for leadership success within that company. Applying and teaching your own lessons-learned as a manager, building on employee potential, creating a culture or feedback and development, and giving employees opportunities to experience, and even sometimes fail, builds a promising future for your company.