Developing leadership: bringing out the best in yourself and others

9 min read
Toshani B

Developing leadership, especially in the times of crisis is challenging, but it is also a great opportunity. Creating a strong pipeline of competent leaders is one of the key roles of any business owner. This is why it’s important to understand key leadership traits to foster and develop in future generations.

There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.”– John C. Maxwell

Studies have long shown that developing leadership not only ensures success in present times, but sets the company up for future success. A survey by global research and advisory firm, Gartner, found that 57% of HR executives identified developing current and future leaders as a top priority for 2020.

Today, it is more important than ever to nurture employees in the work space. This is especially true at a time when the world is still reeling from COVID-19 and changing the way we live and work.

Demystifying leadership in the modern age

To develop the next generation of leaders in your venture, you need to actually demystify the concept of “leadership” to your employees.

It is important to understand that leadership is not a title, but a responsibility for every team member.

While technology is fundamentally changing the nature of business and many roles, the most critical skills are those that are unique to human beings. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report notes that creativity, critical thinking and emotional intelligence are some of the key leadership traits that are likely to gain much more precedence in the coming years.

Large red paper boat leading group of smaller blue boats
With the right tools and guidance, leadership can be learned.

The going was good, as many companies were developing leaders of the future and working on various leadership styles. But the COVID-19 pandemic upended the way we live, work and do business. Leadership, too, drastically changed in the wake of the pandemic.

How the pandemic changed leadership development

The concept of remote work is a prime example of changes to leadership development. This type of work wasn’t prevalent in the past, but the crisis situation made it the new normal.

For example, some managers may have been apprehensive about having their employees work from home. But most had to quickly change their leadership style (and even mindset) to lead remote teams. This meant relying more on audio communication and video calls.

Also, not many business owners were focused on their employees’ mental health.

Only recently has this been a key priority for employee safety and wellbeing.

Leading in the digital age, or post-COVID world, requires an understanding of the virtual media that are gaining momentum. Building an effective messaging system or collaboration framework throughout the organization is vital.

However, the essence of leadership remains the same: to lead the self, lead others and lead the business.

9 tips on developing leaders on the job

Today’s leaders must create an environment characterized by:

  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Inclusivity

This will help them achieve business goals and develop the company's next generation of leaders.

Let’s take a look at how successfully an organization can go about developing leadership and bringing out the best in employees.

1. Create a development plan

The first step to developing leadership is to establish a leadership development plan. According to a Harvard Business School article, “...creating a leadership development plan is vital to staying ahead of the curve and rising to the demands of the job market.”

The article also highlights goal-setting as an essential component of any leadership development plan by introducing the PACE model. This model serves as an acronym for:

  • Pick a leadership goal
  • Apprise others in your inner circle of the goal
  • Collect specific ideas on how to improve
  • Elicit feedback on how you’re doing

With this model in mind, business owners and managers can be effective in selecting leadership goals. Whether planning for themselves or for others, they can then use these goals to chart a course of action for achieving them.

It’s important to help employees establish goals that are aligned with their strengths, interest and experience — along with the overall business goals.

2. Encourage discussion and participation

One good way to nurture and develop leadership skills in others is to act as a role model.  Encourage your employees to introduce new ideas and include them in discussions to show their opinions are valued.

Birds-eye view of people in a business meeting
While Artificial Intelligence (AI) can do many things, it can’t make complex business decisions.

For example, a CEO of a travel company may believe in encouraging team members to share their experiences and struggles or participate in valuable group discussions.

Managers should not only be allowed to network, but also have permission to share articles and upskilling programs.

Any learning materials related to advances in leadership development or reaching professional goals is a good way for them to stay motivated.

Related: The 5 business development skills you need (and where to learn them)

3. Give opportunities to lead

Developing leaders can also be achieved by giving your employees an opportunity to lead. One way is to give them challenging assignments to prove their capabilities. However, make sure they have adequate support in new assignments. You can offer support in the form of coaching and networking, for example.

If you want to bring out the best in your employees, trust them to do their jobs by getting out of the way. Encourage your employees to leave their comfort zones in order to help them grow.

4. Create mentorship programs

Throughout the history of leadership, great leaders have mentors.

  • Steve Jobs had Bill Campbell as a mentor
  • Bill Gates has Warren Buffett
  • Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey

The list is very long.

Mentoring, an essential element in developing leadership, is a great way to motivate employees. It provides direction and builds specific leadership competencies for the mentee like:

  • Building confidence
  • Developing communication skills
  • Finding the right path to move ahead in career roles

Mentoring is the act of sharing relevant insight and wisdom to accelerate the mentee’s personal and professional development. Both learn in the process, while the business engages and retains a valuable employee.

5. Engage with the senior members and veterans

It wouldn’t be wise to let the wisdom of your senior members walk out the door when they retire.

For developing leadership programs, you can tap the knowledge of older executives after they've retired.

Some companies do this by allowing retired workers to return as contractors or arranging part-time work for them. This can be especially beneficial as a way for them to mentor or tutor new candidates.

6. Make training and coaching a priority

Leadership coaching is an essential part of learning and it is not just for C-suite executives. Every employee needs inspiring and knowledgeable coaches at every level to help:

  • Improve self-awareness
  • Build leadership skills
  • Generate effective behaviors

Make coaching a culture in the entire organization beyond formal programs.

Stella Kanatouri, author of “The Digital Coach” and lecturer at Helmut Schmidt University in Germany, mentions that coaching will help leaders at all levels unlock their potential to maximize their own performance and that of their organizations.

In today’s digital world, use of digital technologies like immersive training is much in vogue. Companies can use augmented reality, AI and various collaboration tools to make coaching and training a highly effective process.

7. Offer continuous feedback and inclusivity

People learn new skills more quickly when they have frequent reviews. This is why continuous feedback and learning is important in developing leadership.

One man talking while another listens
Frequent check-ins will help you spot and resolve problems early on.

Giving constructive feedback helps individuals grow. It also motivates them to work on areas they are good at.

Reassure them that leadership is a learn-by-doing activity and it’s okay to fail.

After all, failures are the stepping stones to success.

On the other hand, do remember that feedback is a two-way street. A 360-degree assessment is not only transparent, but also measures the effectiveness of leaders and the organization. This type of feedback will ultimately improve business performance.

8. Tools and technologies to engage employees

Technology is fundamentally changing the nature of work, especially in a post-COVID world. When developing leadership in a virtual world, you'll need an effective process for receiving and sharing information. 

As an example, companies are now using live streaming, video conferencing and collaboration software to stay connected with employees working remotely. Some of the more popular ones include:

Moreover, a variety of online resources and tools can help aid in leadership training and development. Some examples include:

  • Big data and analytics
  • Virtual and augmented reality
  • Social media

However, as the famous Steve Jobs said, “Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have faith in people, that they're basically good and smart — and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.”

You also need to ensure that the communication is clear, consistent and easily accessible to all.

9. Build a culture of continuous learning

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other, said the great American President, John F. Kennedy. So how do we build this culture of continuous learning at work? It begins by setting the tone. This includes:

  • Making a plan
  • Creating a budget
  • Encouraging employees to participate in activities
  • Sharing knowledge (both in informal and formal settings)

Coaching and mentoring, structured learning and workshops (even book clubs) encourage collaboration and communication while learning something new.

Developing leadership in a post-COVID world

Developing leadership in times of disruption is challenging. But it offers leaders an opportunity to transform their organizations by bringing out the best in themselves and their employees.

The important thing to remember is that leadership is not a destination.

It is a journey in which different teams, projects, situations, and external forces will require you to apply these skills in different ways. Equip your people with the right resources to proactively respond to change. This will give potential leaders the tools to thrive and create a transformational culture within the organization.

So what are you waiting for? Take the next step and urge team members to strive for that excellence. With a great leadership development strategy in place, you can assure a new future beckoning!

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