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Let’s Support Emerging Leaders Part I: Working at the Individual Level

3 min read

Still, it behooves us to prioritize leadership development for our benefit, the benefit of our employees, and the long-term success of the companies in which we work.

“Help, I forgot to think about supporting the development of my direct reports!”

I’m half-way through a six-month executive coaching engagement with Beth, a recently-promoted senior-level manager. We’ve been working on three specific desired outcomes for her ongoing leadership development and professional growth.

At the start of a session, she says to me, “Steven, with all my focus on my own developmental goals, I’ve completely forgotten about helping to develop those who report to me!”

“I think I offer good feedback, both ‘positive’ and ‘constructive’ on specific activities, products, and deliverables but I haven’t been thinking about their longer-term professional growth and leadership development,” Beth continues.

“This is a blind spot — and there’s a huge potential cost to them as individuals and to this company. I don’t want to be blind to it anymore!”

I know Beth is not alone in this dilemma.

The balance between “getting the work done” now, and looking ahead at development issues, especially for high-performing, high-potential individuals

With the day-to-day, fast-paced focus on “getting things done,” it’s tough to find time to stop and consider the long-term strategic issues we face.

Still, it behooves us to prioritize leadership development for our benefit, the benefit of our employees, and the long-term success of the companies in which we work.

Of course, we all probably have some “development planning” built into our performance review process. Are we, however, really paying attention to this vital ingredient to employee engagement and company success? Or are we “checking the box” once a year, because it’s required?

Think about just one (for now) high-performing, high-potential individual who works for you.

Pause now and think about one of your best employees. (Ultimately, of course, I’ll encourage you to think about the full range of those who report to you.) Go ahead, name that person. Start the process of thinking:

  • What would you do if he or she came in to your office and said they had accepted another job elsewhere? A top performer leaving creates a huge gap for you to fill.
  • What are the strengths he or she brings to their current role and the range of their responsibilities? How might you help further leverage them?
  • Where are the places he or she may benefit from help to fill in a gap or progress along a continuum of development? What are some “stretches” or development goals that might be reasonable next steps and would allow them to be an even greater contributor to your team’s success?
  • Do your perspectives on strengths and development areas match?
  • Is it a matter of developing new skills or having greater opportunities with new, challenging assignments to demonstrate skills not yet experienced or observed?
  • Do you really know what motivates this person to go “above and beyond”? Could you help provide the resources, support, assignments, introductions, and perspective to help them grow?
  • How might a next conversation start with this individual to let them know you’re committed to his or her development?

A few first steps you may consider

If thinking in this way is new to you . . .

  1. As an experiment, start working more extensively with one person on your team on his or her leadership/executive development.
  1. Try not to think of this as a one-time conversation. Instead, think about your coaching style and how that threads its way through the entire year and the cycle of your business. Perhaps there are milestones throughout the year you can map out as well.
  1. Talk with your direct report about the ways in which you can be most helpful to him or her. Is it providing a new, challenging assignment? Is it giving them more autonomy in the work they’re currently doing? Is it working on a cross-functional project team? Find out and commit to what you can do.
  1. Based on the experience you have with this one individual, begin to formulate a greater and more fully realized plan for ongoing leadership/executive development for your entire team. Develop some consistent practices, processes, and desired outcomes. This can be built into your annual performance review process, but must continue through the year.

If you’re someone who would rather work from the general to the specific, you may want to craft a plan first and then work with your folks based on that fully articulated plan. If you like learning as you go and building the general from the specific, try the ideas above.

Please let us know what you notice in the performance and “spirit” of the people with whom you work most closely on ongoing development. What benefits do you notice — for the person who reports to you, for you, for your company? We’re eager to hear and share what you learn along the way.



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