Leaders Need Time to Be Great. How to Support Rising Stars in Your Organization.
Becoming a great leader takes time. It’s an evolution that demands commitment, relentless focus on the end goal, and intentional effort every day to get better. As the old saying goes, “Experience is the best teacher” and nothing could be truer when it comes to becoming a great leader.
Regardless of how many leadership books one consumes, how many successful business leaders they follow on LinkedIn, or how many courses they enroll in, the most pivotal learning for leaders will happen on the job. They will happen in the middle of an average day when a historically high performing employee falls short on a key project; or when a team that generally collaborates well, experiences a conflict that threatens to irreparably tear them apart. These are challenging experiences that will not always be flawlessly handled by leaders.
But that is not the point, nor should it be the expectation. As anyone who has ever held a position of leadership can recall, it is the experiences or situations where they fell short that they look back on most thoughtfully. Only now with experience, time, and reflection under their belt can they look back, identify their mistake, and explain what they “should” have done. These experiences are defining moments in a leader's journey and are a crucial step in the right direction towards greatness.
Therefore, if leaders need time to become great, then it is the job of their organization to support them along their journey. Here’s how:
1. Communicate expectations
If expectations have never been communicated directly to your leaders, then you can almost bet there are a few in the crowd making some assumptions. These assumptions may be leading them to believe they need to be exceptional leaders from their very first day leading people or that they can never fail. While these are unrealistic expectations for any company to have of their leaders, these are very real thoughts leaders at all levels may have.
Therefore, if you truly want to see your leaders succeed and be great, communicate your expectations. This eliminates the need for assumptions or guesswork and tells leaders exactly what they need to do to be great in the eyes of their company. For example, some may set the expectation that leaders should be approachable, focused on empowerment, committed to their own development, and open-minded to change. By intentionally defining these behaviors or skills, leaders can move forward with clarity and understanding about how their performance is being measured.
2. Create a culture of continuous learning
It is not uncommon to hear that the realities of business such as deadlines, crisis’, and shifting priorities, are impeding a leader’s ability to make their development a priority. With so much to do and so little time, learning and development can quickly turn into a “check the box activity.” In order to overcome this objection, creating a company culture of continuous learning will be important. In this culture, opportunities for improvement and one’s development through various learning activities are encouraged and seen as just as crucial to one’s success as their ability to complete a project. It is a culture where time spent learning now is seen as a positive future investment.
Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader
3. Invest in practical, relevant, experiential training
When it comes to leadership training, there are hundreds, if not thousands of options available at your fingertips. Though for those who want to see their leaders become great by equipping them with the competencies, skills, and tools they need to succeed on the job and “in the heat of battle,” it will not be enough for training to transfer knowledge via a video, lecturer, or online course. Rather, an investment should be made in leadership training that is experiential in nature, where leaders are engaged in their own learning through interactive and hands-on activities or discussions. Through these experiences, leaders learn by doing, which builds confidence to apply the learning back on the job immediately.
4. Set up a mentoring initiative and ensure access to coaching
Effective mentoring has been shown to result in higher organizational commitment, higher job satisfaction, and more positive feelings towards senior leadership and the company as a place to work - all of which are things you want from your leaders. In order to make this happen, you must ensure leaders have regular access to their mentors and can receive timely coaching. Those who do will be able to turn to their mentors in pivotal moments of learning to discuss their problem, examine solutions, and plan a course forward.
Related: 7 Ways to Go From a Boss to a Leader
Take time today for tomorrow's leaders
Leaders at all levels have immense potential within them to be great, no matter how greatness is defined by your organization. While their job is to meet your organization’s defined expectations of great leadership, it is your job to support and equip them along the way. Whether you choose to do so through your company culture, leadership training, mentorship programs, or a combination of all three, these actions directly support a more successful future for your leaders, your employees, and your company.