When a new leadership role opens up, many companies default to looking externally for qualified hires. While fresh-off-the-street candidates can bring new perspectives and valuable insights to the table, their outsider status is a mixed blessing.
The institutional knowledge gained from years of experience within an organization cannot be replicated. And smart organizations know that developing leaders from the ground up is an investment that pays dividends. Approach leadership development with a strategic mindset, and you’ll engage employees, reveal leaders, and yield impactful results.
1. Create Opportunities For Growth And Mission Immersion
Oftentimes, organizations bring in new talent with a well-structured onboarding experience. But after the newness has worn off, employees can feel as if they’ve been left in the dust. Although the pace of work has little chance of slowing down, it frequently results in an unfortunate casualty — mission misalignment.
Consider the experience of a semi-new hire who’s completed the basic onboarding in an accounting role. After a few months, they’re elbow deep in Excel files, just trying to submit their reports on time. Years later, they’ve managed to stay on task and get positive annual reviews. However, if you asked them how their work impacts your company’s goals, they may struggle to answer.
Combat this problem by developing a strategy alignment initiative that provides employees with training and support. Schedule quarterly strategy resets within department teams to cover your “why” and how each individual’s output drives results.
Enhance your employee experience with rotational programs, exposing high-potential team members to the inner workings of your organization. As they shadow or cross-train with members of other departments, they’ll get a feel for how each function contributes to overarching business objectives. The more barriers you can break down between your employees and your mission, the more leaders you’ll unearth.
2. Invest In Employee Learning And Development
After they acquire the physical necessities and achieve base-level security, humans require a sense of belonging. At work, this goes beyond feeling included in your department or project team. Workplace belonging can mean being seen not just for what you are, but for what you can become.
One way of facilitating this sense of belonging within your organization is to invest in your employees. After you’ve established that your core compensation package meets your employees’ needs, take a look at learning and development.
Use behavioral analytics, performance metrics, and employee and manager feedback to identify individual growth opportunities. Then, present your organization’s desire to invest in your employees much like you would a job offer, thinking beyond traditional education reimbursement programs.
One employee might want to pursue a master’s degree, while another might wish to earn a specific certification or attend a professional conference. An individualized approach can yield major benefits, signaling to your employees that they are more than just appreciated, they’re valued.
This approach is especially helpful when presenting mentorship opportunities to emerging leaders. When customizing a potential pairing, engage with your chosen mentor to craft your invitation. Get specific, outlining why the mentee has been identified and how their potential mentor can help enhance their growth and development. Once they’re on board, ensure your mentorship program has a structure that facilitates the growth they deserve.
3. Welcome New Ideas And Calculated Risks
Many organizations say they want game-changers and innovation, but getting commitment to new ideas isn’t always easy. Assess your organization’s current appetite for calculated risks and have an honest discussion with your leadership about your findings. If your stated desire is misaligned with your actions, it’s time to decide what type of culture you truly want.
For organizations willing to make a change, this presents an opportunity to engage with your emerging leaders. Together, list known issues (e.g., declining market share for a flagship product) and where hard boundaries lay (e.g., regulatory requirements). Then, discuss what level of risk is acceptable and what approvals are needed to move forward on initiatives to address the challenges.
Look at this initiative as an innovation hub, where your organization takes on a set of status quo–busting projects. Your emerging leaders will get a chance to explore new ideas within a corporate-approved set of boundaries with expert assistance.
This safe environment allows for experimentation without roadblocks or excessive oversight. Instead, team members can test hypotheses, showcase their budding expertise, and transform your organization. Keep the innovation flowing by rotating the members and leadership sponsors regularly.
Beyond this special team, instill a sense of curiosity and a culture of innovation throughout your organization. Host idea sessions, sponsor small groups, and assemble project teams with diverse employees across disciplines and backgrounds.
Support ideation by acknowledging and logging ideas before writing them off or dismissing their source. This 360-degree approach can create an environment where emerging leaders feel empowered to make a difference.
Leaders Emerge When Organizations Offer The Ideal Conditions For Growth
Just as a tiny seed needs soil, water, and warmth, so too does a nascent leader. Organizations can facilitate leadership growth by creating the conditions necessary for leaders to emerge. Provide employees with meaningful training and reinforce their work’s alignment with your purpose regularly.
Invest in individual growth through both traditional learning and mentoring relationships, both of which are essential for fostering leadership potential. Back up the promises you’ve made to your employees by not only asking for innovation, but acting upon well-founded ideas. In this growth culture, your organization will reveal a wealth of leaders at all levels, ready to make an impact.
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