Building Tomorrow’s Leaders: Strategies for Employee Growth and Development

future leaders

In a previous post, I discussed why succession planning is vital to the long-term success of an organization and provided steps on how to develop a succession plan. Succession planning is not merely a best practice; it is a strategic imperative for organizations looking to thrive in the long term. By proactively identifying and grooming future leaders, organizations can navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and build a sustainable path to success. Click here to learn more about why succession planning matters and how to create a succession plan.

In this post, I’d like to delve deeper into ways to develop your employees so they are prepared to take on more responsibility when the time comes. I believe that to achieve the greatest success for the organization, as well as the highest employee engagement and satisfaction, you need to create alignment between the organization’s needs and the roles that support it, along with the interests, dreams and aspirations of the employees. Employees are most engaged, perform at their best, and provide extra effort when they love what they do and are happy. Hence the saying, “Find what you’re passionate about, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is not an easy task but is certainly achievable.

Our role as leaders is to first understand what skills, experiences, and behaviors are required to effectively execute our various roles. Then, we need to get to know our employees to understand their interests, dreams, aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses. Assessments are a valuable tool that has made significant advancements over the years to help us better understand who we are, what interests us, what we’re good at, and where we may need to develop. An example is Profile International’s PXT Select, which is a powerful assessment tool that measures various thinking and reasoning styles, behavioral traits, and occupational interests. Multiple reports are created from this powerful assessment to provide insights for developing the Individual Development Plan.

Keep in mind that as organizations and employees grow, their needs may change. As a result, misalignment can begin to occur, causing dissatisfaction for the employee, the employer, or both. When this happens, it’s best for both parties to realize it sooner rather than later so they can address it. If you have frequent performance reviews and open, honest conversations about performance and career paths, you’ll have the ability to remain aligned. In some cases, the organization may not be able to provide the roles and challenges that an employee aspires to, or perhaps the timing is off. In that case, our role as servant leaders is to continue to help individuals achieve their dreams, even if it’s not with our organization. While this isn’t easy, it’s probably best for both parties in the short and long term.

Now that you have clarity about role requirements, alignment with employee interests, aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses, and a development plan to address the gaps, there are many ways to develop individuals. Here are just a few…

Invite Them to Have a Seat at the Table: This is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal because people learn in different ways, and experiential learning is paramount. For example, invite them to participate in your next strategic planning meeting, accompany you on a customer visit, shadow you for a week, or attend a staff meeting. Let them see what it’s like at the next level, what’s required of them, what is discussed, and how decisions are made. This also provides an opportunity to build stronger relationships with key individuals within the organization that occupy other seats around the table.

Special Projects: If there’s a project that needs to be addressed, let them take a crack at it, even if they’re not quite ready. You can become the mentor and guide them as needed, but don’t micromanage. Let them provide the leadership, and you become more coach-like, asking powerful questions to help them figure it out. This provides development for the individual and frees up your time. While it might be easier to just do the work yourself the first time, it won’t be the next.

Association Leadership Roles: Encourage them to take on leadership roles within your industry association, or perhaps within an association for their functional discipline. This will help them develop their leadership skills while gaining valuable industry or functional knowledge and building key relationships.

Customer Visits: Meeting with customers on a regular basis is a great way for individuals to learn the true needs of the customer and how your company is addressing them. Many organizations think this is only the job of sales and marketing, but I would encourage everyone to meet with the customer periodically. This not only develops the individual and helps them better understand the needs of the customer, but it also helps the customer build stronger and more diverse relationships within the organization helping them feel more connected.

Leadership Programs: If your organization offers a leadership program, encourage them to enroll in the program. If your organization doesn’t have its own program, there are many programs available in the marketplace, so find the one that best meets your needs.  Leadership programs provide the opportunity for individuals to develop core leadership behaviors including; self-awareness, vulnerability, transparency, accountability, creating a vision, developing strategies, inspiring people, approachability, mentoring others, ensuring results and work/ life balance.

Coaching: Coaching is gaining recognition as a valuable tool at every level of the organization, not just at the top. Coaching can assist an individual with gaining clarity, confidence, and accountability to perform at the highest level while helping them develop into their next role.  Coaches provides an unbiased sounding board for individuals to help them work through issues, seek advice, and hold them accountable for executing.

Lunch and Learns: Conducting monthly lunch and learns within your organization or department is a very effective way to learn about new topics, build relationships, and develop new skills. For example, you could watch a relevant TED Talk and then facilitate a discussion, have individuals give a presentation on a specific topic in their area of expertise and then facilitate a discussion, or have individuals give a presentation about a topic or hobby they pursue outside of work and facilitate a discussion. This provides an opportunity to work on presentation, communication and facilitation skills, learn new content, as well as understand, respect, and leverage the diversity within the organization.

Seminars, Books, Podcasts: These are all great ways to delve deeper into specific topics to gain further knowledge to address a weakness or build on strengths.  As a result, provide individuals some guidance on what books, seminars or podcast you think may be beneficial, but also seek their view on what they think would be valuable.  Once they’ve attended the seminar or read the book, have a discussion with them to discover what they learned and what questions they may have.  This provides an opportunity for you to connect further with the individual and provides an additional level of accountability.  Click here to learn about some of the best leadership books that have been written over the years.

Mentoring: Mentoring others is a critical leadership behavioral trait. As a result, you can create a mentoring program within your organization, assigning mentors and mentees to build relationships and assist with the development needs of individuals benefiting both the mentee and the mentor.  I would try to be as intentional as possible on the assignments so the greatest benefit can be gained.  You can also have the mentee pick their mentor based on who they think would be most beneficial.  This can create another level of ownership by the mentee.  Ask them to meet atleast once a month in some capacity (lunch, breakfast, etc.) and have them report back to you on what they’re learning to provide additional accountability.  I would encourage changing mentors atleast once a year to keep it fresh.  They can always continue to meet with their previous mentor as they wish if they think it’s valuable to do so.

Networking: Encouraging your employees to network regularly and providing them the time to do so is very powerful. From one-on-one coffee meetings to Chamber of Commerce events to Young Professional Networking Groups, there are numerous opportunities to meet new people and discover new things.  Networking is a great way to meet others with similar, as well as different areas of interest thus expanding your knowledge base.  It’s also a way for you to become a super connector, that is being able to make introductions to others that may be beneficial to them which is extremely valuable and a great way to set yourself apart.

As you can see, there are many ways to help develop future leaders to prepare them for their next role and the roles that follow. It takes careful planning, intentionality, and accountability to execute. My advice here is to take development seriously. Get clarity about your needs, how best to meet those needs, then act to fill the gaps.  If you don’t, you are only limiting your possibilities. But if you do, your possibilities are endless!