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You’re already aware that any company needs amazing leadership to succeed. With baby boomers retiring in droves, you are also keenly attuned to the fact that employee development and succession planning are key to ensuring your company always has a stock of great leaders on hand.

But in our ever-changing and fast-paced business world, it can be hard to craft effective leadership development strategies that give employees all the skills and knowledge they need to take the reins when the time comes. Here are six tips to help you develop leaders, no matter what challenges your company faces:

1. Leadership Development Doesn’t Happen in a Day

The first step is admitting you have a leadership hole to fill. The very next step is to understand that filling that role won’t happen overnight. As with any time-intensive process, it’s important to start leadership development with a realistic timeline in place in order to set appropriate expectations for your employees and yourself.

2. Create a Company-Wide, Customizable Process

Rather than an isolated, one-time plan, create a duplicable process that can be tailored to each employee’s needs. This gives employees a roadmap that will help them envision their own career progression at your company, and it gives other company leaders and managers a valuable tool they can use in their own departments.

Here are some tips to help you get started on your leadership development process:

  1. Start by identifying a short-term goal for the employee(s) you want to coach. Consider where you’d like them to be in a year to 18 months. Is their role expanded or entirely different? Will they work with or coach others? Are there any skills they will need that they don’t currently have?
  2. Next, start thinking about the longer-term components of the plan. Look 2-4 years into the future. Where is the employee now? How has the company changed? This is a good question to get feedback on from your employee, so you understand what their aims are. You should also get higher-level organization stakeholders engaged: Do they have any crucial needs or product roadmaps that might help you understand the kind of leaders your company will need in the future?

The overall idea here is simple: If you cannot identify a clear path between the employee’s current path and where you need them to be in the future, create one.

3. Take an Honest Look at Your Employees

Do a SWOT analysis on the employees you want to develop. Where are they strong? Where are there opportunities for them to improve? Can this employee handle the necessary leadership development process?

To find out whether or not an employee has the stamina to withstand leadership development — which is a long process wherein they must come face to face with their own weaknesses daily — take a look at how they handle feedback and performance reviews. Your employee may not jump at the chance to perform their own self-evaluation, but encourage them to do so. It will give you a telling look at how the employee might do in a leadership development program.

4. Set Goals

Following the SWOT analysis, you should have some idea of what the employee can do to grow in the direction of future leadership. Work with your employee to set goals that will address these issues and build on the strengths they already have. Keep in mind, too, the gaps the organization may need the employee to fill in the future.

Once the goals are clear, work with your employee to identify 3-5 steps they need to take in order to start moving toward the achievement of their goals. Whenever possible, build a deadline into each step.

5. Don’t Rely on Conferences and Seminars

Managers often make the mistake of coaching employees in theory only while neglecting to give them the chance to learn in a live environment. Managers who want to create new leaders should help employees practice their newfound skills in real life. When problems arrive, don’t swoop in to save the day — let the employee try to solve it on their own first.

Some additional action items to help your employees move into leadership roles include:

  1. Teach your employees to network: Networking teaches important leadership skills like identifying trends and building relationships.
  2. Delegate some of your own work: While most employees complete their to-do lists and clock out, future leaders are willing to go above and beyond. Delegate some of your duties to your employees to help them learn more about presentations, public speaking, and other common leadership tasks. More importantly, ask your employees to attend meetings and conferences along with you so that they can observe a successful leader (i.e., you) in action.
  3. Let them sweat: Spoon-feeding your employees will do more harm than good, especially if you want them to become self-learners — a must for today’s competitive business world.
  4. Be an engaged coach:  In situations where self-learning isn’t an option, be ready to coach employees. Answer their questions and mentor them through difficult scenarios.
  5. Help them become coaches, too: The buddy system really does work. Encourage your employees to turn to one another when they are in need. Not only will employees learn from each other, but they’ll be able to practice the skills that will make them great coaches when they become leaders.
  6. Document everything:  Information should be easy to access so employees can retrieve it as they need it in real time.

A version of this article originally appeared on Inspire Software.

Dr. Drea Zigarmi is a strategic advisor to Inspire Software.



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