Authentic Leaders know that one of their primary responsibilities is developing future leaders. Leaving behind leaders who can step into their shoes is vital to the long-term success of an organization. When you consider any of the “levels of leadership” models, all of them require that a leader develop their successor or a series of successors to achieve the level 5 status.
Yet many leaders, even some very good leaders, miss that key responsibility. There are many reasons for that. One of the big ones is that they get caught up in the day-to-day managing of the organization and let their leadership responsibilities fall to the bottom of their priorities. Sometimes they can’t see the leadership candidates in their organizations. That is also a result of being too “busy” actually to lead.
I remember a conversation several years ago with a Director of Sales for a division of a company. He was leaving his role as Director and moving into a new role within his company. Just before he left his current role, he asked me to critique his performance.
He was a good leader. His people liked him and, more importantly, respected him. He was results-driven, and he helped his people get better. You probably think that all sounds good, and it was. But there was one big gap in his leadership.
So I shared many of the good things about his leadership. Then I shared the gap. As he left his current role, there was not one person on his team of a dozen or so people prepared to step into his role. That was a huge failure of his leadership. I knew that most people who asked to be “critiqued” really wanted to hear that they were doing great. Most aren’t actually looking for constructive criticism and want to hear they do not need improvement. So he wasn’t exactly happy with my input. But it was 100% accurate.
I finished up with the rest of what he was doing well as a leader and offered to help him develop leaders in his next role. As disappointed as he may have been with my feedback, I’m happy to say he took me up on my offer.
So, where exactly does a leader find future leaders in their organization? In a word, everywhere.
Many organizations have some sort of talent pool. This is a select group of employees targeted for development. I don’t know much about how that works because I’ve never been in a pool like that. But I do know this…once somebody is in that pool, it seems nearly impossible to get them out. Conversely, it appears that once you’re passed over for the opportunity to swim in that pool, you’re never getting in.
And that’s where leaders, sometimes even very good leaders, make their biggest mistakes. They assume that the people they need have a certain “look.” They are of a certain demographic. They talk a certain way and dress “the way” a leader dresses.
Leaders who fall short in developing future leaders don’t realize their entire organization is a talent pool just waiting, hoping, and needing to be developed. Many potential leaders are overlooked when only a small group of “select” people are allowed into that developmental pool.
If the organization is lucky, those potential leaders will leave the organization and go on to greatness somewhere else. If the organization is unlucky, those potential leaders will allow their potential to be wasted by staying with the organization that doesn’t see its value. They become the disenchanted and disengaged employees who cost organizations limitless amounts of money.
My answer is everywhere if you’re a leader and you’re wondering where to invest your time. Your future leaders will show themselves at some point, and you can invest extra time with them. But never stop working to grow ALL your people. Not everyone rises to the top at the same speed. Some people develop faster than others.
People will surprise you. I’ve seen over and over some of the best swimmers left out of the talent pool because they didn’t “fit” someone’s preconceived notion of what a “winner” or a “leader” looks like.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen in your organization. You can delegate the task of developing future leaders to your HR and Training Departments, but you can’t delegate the responsibility.
Remember that your pool of potential future leaders will get a whole lot bigger.