One of the first jobs of a leader is to develop another leader.
While it may not seem like a top priority when viewed with all the other tasks coming at you every week, it is critical to your business’s longevity and your sanity, too! If you were simply a manager, that sounds like, “Just keep things steady every day. Keep following the playbook. Serve the customers. Work hard. Don’t cause trouble, or you’ll be written up.” But leadership is bigger picture, and it’s all about development: of the business and of the people in it. And when you develop a leader, not just a follower, it’s multiplication—because of the impact that person will have on so many employees under them for as long as they lead when you aren’t around. If all you is give orders, all you’ll get will be order-takers.
Every leadership position in your company needs a succession plan, starting with you. It doesn’t matter when you intend to leave the business and move on to something else, be it next year or in twenty years. Since you don’t have a crystal ball, you have to be ready for an opportunity or some other life-altering event that would trigger an abrupt exit. Do you have someone ready to step into your shoes who has been mentored and trained to do all the tasks and make all the decisions that you do?
Here’s how to set up a succession plan for any position. You brainstorm the short list of people who might someday be a good fit for the leadership position you are discussing. With each of those potential leaders, rate them on readiness: do you think they are ready now, or in 1 year, or 2+ years down the road? Make notes on the barriers or challenges to them stepping into the position based on what you have seen in their performance. Then develop a spreadsheet that has categories of competencies that matter to your business philosophy. Main categories can be about how they lead themselves (courage, self-management, emotional maturity), how they lead others (team-building, communication, respect), and how they lead the business (enthusiasm for the vision, solving problems, implementing strategy). Rate them high, medium or low—or on a scale of 1-5.
Then, insert some industry competencies that are specific to the position, and again note the level of experience they have demonstrated—from no experience to expert. Finally, list the person’s strengths and aspirations (because you have spent lots of time with them). Then it’s time to list out a development plan for that future leader. Every year until they are primed and ready for a promotion, you will lay out activities and actions that they need to stretch outside their comfort zone to attain, in order to grow. List the resources or support they need to succeed, how you will measure their success, and milestone dates for them to accomplish these activities to your standard.
Even if you don’t take the succession plan as seriously as I lay it out above, every employee needs an annual IDP (individual development plan) for getting better at what they do, for expanding their capabilities, and for transferring knowledge to those junior to them on the team. Who knows how that pursuit of excellence might also be developing leadership competencies in them for a position that isn’t even on their radar today. You might just change their life!
There are three legs of the leadership development stool: on the job training, continuing education, and mentoring/coaching. Let’s start with OTJ training:
- They come along/shadow. “Take them with”–Everywhere you go, let them see and experience what you are leading. Then, when the experience is done, you debrief with them: their perceptions, what they would have done, cause and effect…
- They lead portions of meeting. Your job: “Strive to be bored!” Say as little as possible in meetings, unless you are vision-casting, facilitating, and validating. Prep them in advance for the issue, how to facilitate it, and then run that agenda item at meetings.
- They lead task forces/committees. As soon as a problem surfaces that needs more exploration for a solution, assign a direct report to chair it. Teach them how to run a task force and meld their group into a team. Another area would be giving them a main section of the company strategic plan for them to champion—a great breeding-ground for leaders.
- They give input on problems to solve in the organization or on the team. They are already thinking about it, probably talking/listening to others in hallways about it. Now allow them to have a voice. If they report a complaint, they must bring 3 solutions to the table for you to question them about until they choose the wisest route—or not.
- They act on your behalf. They become your delegate or deputy. When you are available, you give them the authority to make some decisions. Again, never biting their head off for a mistake that was well-thought-out but failed.
- They get the chance to take a role in every area of leadership. This takes some thought to make sure they experience every meeting, every task, every learning opportunity.
- They evaluate every event, process, and even at least one employee. This is where leadership hits the pavement. You are trying to get them to make everything they touch better, more streamlined, more WOW, more success-producing, more team-centric.
The second leg is continuing education. It seems to be the first thing cut in most budgets, but it’s vital to ongoing leadership development. If you are worried that you’d pour money into developing people and then they’ll leave you, consider if you don’t train them and they stay!
- Reading the employee handbook with new eyes. From a leadership perspective. Asking about anything that doesn’t make sense. Give them a fun quiz when they are done, with a reward.
- Tell them the story of the history of the organization and where it is going. You want them to re-connect to the WHY you both lead—the difference it is making. And you want them to catch the fire of the vision so that it becomes automatic in their conversations with their direct reports/colleagues.
- Walk them through every line item of the budget. And tell the story behind what company goals are the basis for those numbers.
- Books to read (CD’s/podcasts/TED Talks/magazine articles), then debrief, then apply. Authors I recommend: John Maxwell, Max DePree, Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, Patrick Lencioni. Get hired, get a box of books. Ask them what stood out to them that they would like to share or apply?
- Conferences to attend. Usually these are trade-specific. So many benefits to sending them: education, contacts, experts, trade show resources, fresh perspective, new ideas, a break from routine…. Make sure you both agree on the outcomes you want to see from the conference before they go. Better to send someone alongside.
- Local seminars to attend. Usually these are subject-specific. Even better if it’s a skill that needs improvement, or that goes along with a company priority. They must present to you and the team their takeaways that would benefit the team as a whole. Never send someone to training without getting the information learned to the whole team!
- Professional development meetings (or pieces of meetings) that you plan. Guest speakers/trainers. Video/on-line training. Assessments.
- Networking events to attend. This is where they will meet other community leaders, who they might take to lunch to grow from. They also pick up ways to make the business relevant to the community, and learn the community’s perception of the company. Help them with an “elevator introduction.”
- If possible, Sponsor them in a Leadership Development program in your community. Here in the Tri-Cities, check out www.leader-launcher.com
And leadership development leg number three is mentoring/coaching.
- Key questions in 1-to-1’s with you. Once a week for an hour is not too long if you are in intense leadership-development mode. 1-to-1 Questions revolving around:
- Relationship-building—for instance, it’s important to know what motivates them.
- Wins to celebrate.
- Upcoming priorities.
- Struggles/obstacles. Maybe something you can remove for them or be a sounding board.
- Observations/evaluation. A problem that needs fixing.
- Focus area. Whatever your company thematic goal is.
- Goal update. These have been developed annually/quarterly.
- What would you do? Scenarios. Give them situations that you’ve experienced and see how they’d respond. Ask “Why?” a lot (not as a challenge) to pick THEIR brains and examine their thinking.
- Consistent positive (and negative) feedback. Every employee down-deep really wants to know how he/she is doing. And, everyone we run into is encouragement-deprived. We all need more tank-filling than tank-draining. Don’t let a week go by without speaking into their lives.
- Observations of them with their customers. Great fodder for debriefing/coaching. Talk through objectives before the meeting, and whether they were accomplished after the meeting. A high-potential leader will ask YOU, “How’d I do? How could I have done that better? Give me the last 5% that you’re not telling me.”
- Internal mentor. A veteran with a heart for developing others, who knows the best way to handle situations. Great with skills and with people. Mentors teach. If possible, mentees could have time monthly with you if you are a good people-developer.
- External coach. Someone not emotionally tied to their job—an objective sounding-board who is FOR their success. The coach will story-board them to their goals, ground them in their identity, and push them to deal with issues.
“Any organization that is not cultivating the next generation of leadership is sowing seeds of failure.” –John Maxwell
If you stand in one place long enough (in your position), the organization starts to organize around you. Be careful to reproduce yourself into others. See that budget line-item as an investment in the business’s future. People stay at companies that invest in them. Effective leaders walk alongside their followers and help them become more on this journey by intentionally developing each one of them.
Can you tell I love talking about leadership development? Would you give me the opportunity to show you how your organization and I can partner together with a customized leadership development program for your team? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or to me Paul D. Casey on Linkedin.