At some point, you’re going to have to hand over the reins to the next generation of leaders.
This is a great day: your business has proven valuable to the market, it’s a success!
But who are you handing the reins over to? Have you taken the steps to get them to understand the high demands of the role?
If you haven’t, we’re sure you’ve selected successors based on performance, longevity, and dedication to the company. Not to mention their intelligence and work ethic. Still, if you’d like to rest easy in retirement knowing you’ve done everything possible to create a smooth leadership transition, then it’s time to implement an internal leadership development program.
What Leadership Development Is
With a good leadership development program, it takes time to groom a predecessor and instill the knowledge necessary to take on the role with the highest rate of success.
Typically, an in-house leadership development program involves years of mentorships, roles, meetings, and reviews to adequately prepare a potential leader for the position.
What Leadership Development Isn’t
Notice I didn’t use the word “train” in the last section. There’s very good reason for that.
The goal of leadership development isn’t to train somebody on how to “do the job.”
There are some things you just can’t train, no matter how many resources you devote to it.
Leadership, as you know, is a mindset. It includes its own values and principles, a philosophy that comes from years of experience, shortcomings, and victories.
In your leadership development program, it’s essential that you veer away from the “See how I do it? Now your turn” mentality. Trust that once your development program has concluded and they’ve stepped into the role, your guidance (with the assistance of other core organizational leaders) will be what they need most to make successful business decisions.
How to Create a Leadership Development Program
Now that we’ve established priorities, let’s get to the meat of the matter: actually developing a program that works.
Give Potential Leaders New Challenges
When you find an employee with leadership potential, it’s crucial that they understand how all aspects of the company function. They’ll best learn this by taking on roles within various areas of the company.
First-hand experience gives potential leaders the ability to see what works, what doesn’t, and how processes are aligned with larger goals. This knowledge may change over time, of course, but your future successors need to know what goes on everywhere in the office.
Likewise, up the ante with each new role they receive. Steadily give them roles with bigger challenges to see how they handle the additional stress and issues at hand.
Your next leader needs to make decisions, sometimes very quickly, and giving them the opportunity to make decisions—and potentially fail (within reason)—gives them the ability to envision how things could be done better and how they need to improve to become a formidable leader.
Begin a Mentorship Program
Whether you or another member of the leadership team acts as mentor, it’s important that a potential leader understands the expectations via a current leader.
You can approach this through various means, whether having a potential leader rotate between leaders for a set duration of time, or having them work with a particular person. However a mentorship is approached, your potential leader will learn immensely important skills and ideas.
If your mentorship program includes multiple leaders, try to make sure that your potential leader sees how many issues are tackled within the organization. Employee issues, development, nurturing business relationships, negotiating in both the office and with clients.
The most important aspects of your organization should be covered in the mentorship.
Increase Performance Reviews
Give your potential leaders direction with increased performance reviews.
In some roles, they’re bound to take a misstep or two. Feedback from mentors lets your potential leaders know how they can better approach an issue in the future. Approach performance reviews as you would with any other role, indicating areas of improvement and where strengths lay.
Because of the increase, your leadership performance reviews should be a little less formal than the once-or-twice a year reviews other employees receive. While the additional roles and expectations are stressful, these performance reviews serve as a way to align leadership candidates with the role and stress their successes.
Keep Your Leadership Pool Full
Your organization has many dedicated employees who may envision themselves as future leaders. If they have spoken with you about their goals, or have some of the characteristics you’re looking for, include them in your leadership development program.
This program is meant to highlight the very few capable of taking on your role when the time comes. It should be expected that not everybody will make it through; whether voluntarily or involuntarily.
And that’s ok—as long as you have others undergoing the program.
Your leadership development program is like the Green Berets: many people enroll for the opportunity to be among the elite, but only a small few make it to ceremony. With a large pool of candidates, you’ll rest-assured knowing that the right people have been chosen for the right roles.
Ask Potential Leadership Candidates for Feedback
You’ll find some gaps in your leadership development program when you ask candidates, both those who didn’t complete the program and those who have, for feedback and suggestions.
Those chosen to take part in the leadership development program have your organization’s success top of mind, and they’ll likely have ideas for future implementations to strengthen the experience.
While we steered away from training modules, you may find that employees want these included. You may find that something you thought worked, didn’t really yield the skills you had hoped it would achieve.
Tailor and improve your development program to ensure the best possible experience for all candidates, and to create future leaders with the skill set, mindset, and principles to benefit everybody involved with the organization.