Employee leadership is considered one of the most promising aspects of human resources and training within organizations. After all, leaders have to come from somewhere!
There are obvious benefits to building up leaders from within:
- They have a deeper understanding of the company’s mission than a new hire from “outside.”
- They will work hard to justify the company’s faith in promoting them to leadership positions.
- Workforce morale overall rises when employees see “one of their own” moving ahead. (It could happen to them, too.)
- The organization itself benefits from promoting a motivated, talented, and experienced employee.
Given these favorable outcomes, what can you do to recognize, encourage, and reward employee leadership?
Learn to identify potential leaders.
Part of the leadership cultivation process is keeping an eye out for the most promising candidates within the organization. Generally speaking, such individuals won’t be hard to miss. They display genuine enthusiasm for their job responsibilities, frequently go above and beyond, and are more than willing to assist co-workers with important tasks.
But it’s important to watch for other key signs. At company meetings, for example, see which employees contribute the most and come up with the most striking, out-of-the-box ideas. Consider inviting these individuals to sit in on a higher-level meeting. Encourage them to take part, contributing ideas and insights based on their professional experience.
Ask the right questions.
Savvy business owners also take time to identify a potential leader’s ambitions and needs. They ask probing, foward-looking questions like:
- Are there other positions in the organization you’d like to explore?
- What skills do you possess that you feel aren’t being utilized by our company?
- Which current skill would you like to improve?
- Are there new skills you’d like to develop?
The answers you receive will prove to be a helpful guide as you oversee the individual’s progress towards leadership.
Look for alignment with your company’s vision.
Employees who “get” the organization’s vision and mission statement are often the most promising leadership candidates. It’s up to you and your executive team to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to understand this vision (and feels comfortable asking questions to gain a deeper understanding).
This alignment “gives [employees] ownership of what they create and helps them support organizational causes with more purpose,” notes Inc.
Offer training opportunities and mentorship.
Budding leaders often learn most when they have access to training and development opportunities (classes, webinars, conferences, etc.). Since the cost and time-commitment of formal training can be daunting, offer to foot the bill for work-related development opportunities and invite employees to take part.
Employees can benefit hugely from working with mentors, too. LMBC, a professional services solutions provider, suggests enlisting “older generation leaders” to act as mentors and role models to employees. This experience “will help future leaders learn the ropes more quickly and form good habits from leading others.”
Give potential leaders challenging assignments.
Ambitious employees often want to test themselves and build their portfolio of talents. However, this is only possible if the organization enables them to tackle a challenging project or initiative–even if the end-result isn’t “perfect.”
One option is appointing them to manage a small group of fellow employees on a special project. In addition, you can invite them to appoint a team of their own to brainstorm solutions to nagging organizational and/or customer service issues.
The key, says Forbes, is letting the potential leader struggle, if necessary. No one is saying you must “force prospective leaders to swim or die,” and you or a manager should pitch in if things get too difficult. Most important, you should be sure to refrain from rushing “to their aid at the first sign of danger,” because it’s more desirable that they “make their own decisions and find their own solutions.”
Reward performance and initiative.
As you work to promote employee leadership, always remember to provide tangible rewards. For example, don’t hesitate to praise the employee in public or through company-wide communications. In addition, you should include performance objectives and achievements in the employee’s annual or semi-annual evaluations and congratulate them for their efforts. Offer personalized guidance or advice, when necessary, and always in an upbeat fashion.
With the right level of support and training, you can develop the next generation of leaders within your organization. Think of the time and resources you’ll save by not having to look beyond your company walls and not having to rely upon “outside” candidates to fill leadership positions.