Authentic Leaders know that one of their primary responsibilities is developing future leaders. Leaving behind leaders who can step into their shoes is vital to the long term success of an organization. When you consider any of the “levels of leadership” models all of them require that a leader develop their successor, or a series of successors to achieve the level 5 status.
Yet many leaders, even some very good leaders, miss that key responsibility. There are many reasons for that. One of the big ones is that they get caught up in the day to day managing of the organization and let their leadership responsibilities fall to the bottom on their priorities. Sometimes they can’t see the leadership candidates in their organizations. That is also a result of being too “busy” to actually lead.
I remember a conversation several years ago with a Director of Sales for a division of a company. He was leaving his role as Director and moving into a new role within his company. Just before he left his current role he asked me to critique his performance.
He was a good leader. His people liked him, and more importantly, respected him. He was results driven and he helped his people get better. You’re probably thinking that all sounds good, and it was. But there was one big gap in his leadership.
So I shared much of the good things about his leadership. Then I shared the gap. As he left his current role there was not one person on his team of a dozen or so people prepared to step into his role. That was a huge failure of his leadership. I knew that most people who asked to be “critiqued” really want to hear that they are doing great. Most aren’t actually looking for constructive criticism, they are looking to hear they have no need for improvement. So he wasn’t exactly happy with my input. But it was 100% accurate.
I finished up with the rest of what he was doing well as a leader and offered to help him develop leaders in his next role. As disappointed as he may have been with my feedback I’m happy to say he took me up on my offer.
So where exactly does a leader find future leaders in their organization? In a word, everywhere.
Many organizations have some sort of talent pool. This is a select group of employees targeted for development. I don’t know much about how that works because I’ve never been in a pool like that. But I do know this…once somebody is in that pool it seems nearly impossible to get them out. Conversely, it appears that once you’re passed over for the opportunity to swim in that pool you’re never getting in.
And that’s where leaders, sometimes even very good leaders, make their biggest mistake. They assume that the people they need have a certain “look.” They are of a certain demographic. They talk a certain way and dress “the way” a leader dresses.
Leaders who fall short in developing future leaders don’t realize their entire organization is a talent pool just waiting, hoping, and needing to be developed. When only a small group of “select” people are allowed into that developmental pool many potential leaders are overlooked.
If the organization is lucky those potential leaders will leave the organization and go on to greatness somewhere else. If the organization is unlucky those potential leaders will allow their potential to be wasted by staying with the organization that doesn’t see their value. They become the disenchanted and disengaged employees who cost organizations limitless amounts of money.
If you’re a leader and you’re wondering where to invest your time my answer is everywhere. At some point your future leaders will show themselves and you can invest extra time with them. But never stop working to grow ALL your people. Not everyone rises to the top with the same speed. Some people develop faster than others.
People will surprise you. I’ve seen over and over some of the best swimmers left out of the talent pool because they didn’t “fit” someone’s preconceived notion of what a “winner” or a “leader” looks like.
As a leader it is your responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen in your organization. You can delegate the task of developing future leaders to your HR and Training Departments but you can’t delegate the responsibility.
Remember that and your pool of potential future leaders will get a whole lot bigger.