5 Steps to Growing your Leaders from Within

670 300 Russell Potter

An interesting fact brought to light comes from an unlikely source, wealth guru Robert Kiyosaki.  In his excellent book, “Lessons in Leadership from the Military,” he points out that in the US Marines, nobody has ever been appointed to the position of General from outside of the Marines.“In the US Marines, nobody has ever been appointed to the position of General from outside of the Marines.”

As benign as that may sound, how many organizations can say that their CEO was home grown from within the organization, embodying the values that have evolved over decades into a clear brand identity delivering loyal customers and regular profits.  The answer is obvious, they didn’t grow the best person for the job where the said job is in an open marketplace for the best talent.

Here’s our take on how to grow the leaders of the future from within.

1. Recruit Wisely

In any organizational development consulting project we start recruitment, more specifically the Recruitment and Selection Processes.  No organization can truly move forward if it continuously feeds itself with the wrong hires.

We stress the importance of high standards and entry requirements.  Many candidates can do a great interview so it’s important to spot the signs of a poor fit at this stage.  Look for leadership characteristics and not only operational  skills in all hires.

A note on psychometrics here.  Although psychometrics are popular, unless you are highly trained at using them you’re likely to go straight to the Job Match.  What the Job Match doesn’t tell you is how well the person would fit into your organization.  A Sales Executive position at a large multinational requires a totally different set of personal characteristics to a Sales Executive Position at a start-up IT company, where entrepreneurial skills would be more favorable.Hiring only people with leadership and intrapreneurial characteristics will create the raw talent pool needed for the next generation of leaders.

2. Delegate Well

Although this is easier said than done in high paced environments such as hospitality, which call for rigid SOPs and emergency management styles, the key here is to train leaders in when to delegate and to whom.

It’s the best opportunity you have to put employees into a stretch position involving real learning and responsibility.  Most leaders stretch employees by giving a higher volume of work rather than a higher level of work.

Many leaders will find it quicker and easier to do complex tasks themselves but this is poor leadership.  In reality, this is one which needs reinforcement from the very top.  When the Executive Team expects it of their managers, they usually fall in line.  In other organizations which value the “Hero,” approach to working, delegation is rarely executed effectively.

Delegate what you can, delegate often, delegate interesting stretch tasks, set clear expectations, give the employee 24-48 hours to report back on their plan to do the job, support coach and guide from there.“In other organizations which value the “Hero” approach to working, delegation is rarely executed effectively.”

3. Project Work.

Although most companies will not utilize Six Sigma style cross functional projects, our experience is that these projects offer the perfect opportunity to develop leadership skills in employees who would otherwise not have the chance.  Leadership comes not only from delegated power (I’m the boss) it also comes from technical competence and project work offers a chance to leverage this.  At the same time, with coaching, the technical leadership can be compounded with a broader spectrum of leadership skills.

Team members can eventually become project managers and have cross-functional leadership experience, perfect for Executive positions.

More than anything the experience gives a broader view of the organization, essential to any future CEO and desperately lacking in nearly all divisional and departmental leaders.

4. Leadership Training…for All.

All of us, whether we are CEO’s or Receptionists, are leaders at specific times.   In an emergency fire drill, it’s often the Office Manager or Receptionist with leadership responsibilities.  There are times when my 9-year old son is the leader when it comes to anything related to surfing or the latest trend for kids.   He has the knowledge that I clearly lack in that arena and becomes a leader in that moment.

The very best way to ingrain leadership qualities into an organization is to train everyone to be a great leader from the beginning.  Indeed, this is a key tenet of US military training.

Although the Office Junior has little need to learn about the Balanced Scorecard he does have a requirement to understand that leadership is about teaching, about engagement, about unity.

In Richard Branson’s words, “Train them well enough that they can leave, treat them well enough that they will stay.”“Train them well enough that they can leave, treat them well enough that they will stay.”

5. Teach don’t Tell

This is one we have used at Motivo with some stunning results.  The idea is that instead of giving tasks and answering questions, you ask questions and give responsibilities.

Although there are often cultural barriers to this, as here in Indonesia, it takes time and patience and is worth the effort.  In an emergency situation or up against a deadline you will need to manage your own emotions to stay on track but keep with it.   Employees eventually work out that they have the freedom and responsibility to think for themselves, to take responsibility. 

By putting the problem back to the employee they learn to think in leadership terms in a protected and safe environment, almost like a child learning to ride a bike with stabilizers.  Once the stabilizers come off, the employee will have the self-confidence to make decisions and solve problems without fear or emotions clouding their judgment.“Employees eventually work out that they have the freedom and responsibility to think for themselves, to take responsibility”

This list could go on and on, but 4 Steps is about the limit of change for any organization.  Ingrain these 4 steps into your corporate culture, stay with them for the long term and your pool of leadership talent will be deep and wide.


Russell Potter

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