There are a number of ways to approach leadership development, whether you are looking for ways to help people in leadership roles expand their skills, or if you're interested in incorporating a leadership development element into your company's succession planning efforts. It's ideal to use a combination of strategies, providing multiple ways for team members to make progress toward their potential as leaders.
Six Key Strategies to Develop Leaders
The following strategies can help develop leadership abilities within an organization.
1. Start With a Needs Assessment
Any leadership development strategies you implement should be relevant to your overall talent development strategy to ensure your actions are strategically aligned with the organization's goals and objectives. Conducting a needs assessment is a good starting point. This provides you with a way to determine the best method to approach leadership development within your company.
The needs assessment process involves looking at where your team members' skills are now, considering where their skills need to be, and identifying the gap between the two. From there, you can begin working on a plan to focus your leadership development efforts on filling in that gap.
Needs assessments can be conducted on an individual or organization-wide basis. Examples include:
- Individual: Consider using a tool designed to assess leadership tendencies, such as Everything DiSC Work of Leaders, or leadership skills like the Mettl Leadership Assessment to identify focus areas for a particular individual's development.
- Organization-wide: Conduct an employee satisfaction and/or engagement survey that includes items specific to employees' perceptions of leadership within the organization. Ask them to identify specifically the company's leadership strengths and weakness.
2. Offer Leadership Training
Provide formal training opportunities focused on developing key leadership skills, including general leadership training and specific topics identified as a result of a needs assessment. This could include offering on-site workshops focused on leadership development, as well as encouraging employees to attend relevant public seminars, conferences, or webinars. The best leadership development training curricula utilize a variety of and approaches including case studies and real-world examples, according to Inc. Magazine.
You may want to make this type of training available to (or mandatory for) all employees who are in or being considered for formal leadership positions. You may also want to open enrollment opportunities to a wider group, encouraging employees to learn how to become better leaders regardless of their current position or goals. After all, even people who aren't in formal positions of authority in the organization often become informal leaders - and they impact the culture just as much as those who do have leadership-specific jobs.
3. Establish a Leadership Mentoring Program
Assigning new leaders and team members who are being considered for advancement into leadership roles to work closely with a mentor who is a successful leader can be a great way to set the stage for leadership success and growth. A post on the Association for Talent Development (ATD) blog describes mentoring as powerful tool for "developing sustainable leaders," encouraging regular and ongoing use of this strategy as a tool for leadership development.
To utilize mentorship as a leadership development strategy, you wouldn't just assign employees as mentees to their direct supervisors. As ReliablePlant.com points out, it's best when mentors and mentees don't have a direct-line reporting relationship when the focus is leadership development. That's because success depends on both people involved in the relationship having a comfort level to challenge each other, ask questions, and learn.
4. Identify - and Groom - Potential Leaders
While some of your leadership development efforts will likely be focused on helping current leaders improve their skills, it's also important to identify and begin to prepare individuals who have the potential to become your next generation of leaders. You can do this by incorporating a career pathing element to your performance evaluation process.
This simply requires adding a section to performance appraisal meetings that involves managers talking to employees about their career goals to get a sense of who is interested in taking on a leadership role. Then, based on each person's potential and interests, set goals to help those who want to grow as leaders do so. It can also be beneficial to have managers identify and recommend high performers with leadership potential, who are then invited to participate in development opportunities, such as leadership training and mentoring programs.
5. Encourage Strategic Thinking
In 2014, Harvard Business Review (HBR) conducted a global study focused on identifying the most important leadership behaviors. The results indicated taking "a strategic approach to leadership" is, by far, the most important leadership behavior. In fact, it was determined to be "10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied." That statistic makes a pretty good case for incorporating into any leadership development program efforts to teach leaders to think strategically. Consider:
- Encourage managers to engage in strategic planning, on their own, with their teams, and with other people (such as senior leadership, other managers, etc.)
- Find ways to reward those who exhibit strategic thinking and problem-solving skills, identifying those who do as potential future leaders if they are not already in leadership roles.
- Teach strategic thinking as part of your leadership development training program or consider offering classes on this topic to an even broader audience as part of your overall talent development program.
6. Set the Stage for Networking Skills
Being able to build effective relationships is an important leadership skill, so encouraging team members to learn how to network effectively can be an important aspect of a company's approach to leadership development. This may include both internal (within the organization) and external (outside the organization) networking opportunities.
- Internal: Forbes suggests encouraging people who are being trained for leadership roles to attend company sponsored events and use the opportunity to get to know new people within the company.
- External: Supporting employee involvement in relevant professional and industry associations provides them with a way to build a strategic network of contacts outside the organization.
Take a Strategic Approach to Developing Leaders
These strategies can all have a place in any effective leadership development program. Of course, the methods you choose to utilize have to be a good fit for your organization's culture and workforce. No matter what strategies you decide to implement, be sure there are clear expectations for everyone who is involved and include a mechanism for gathering feedback so you can determine what is working and what may need to be adjusted as time passes.