As temporary stewards of the organization, senior executives have a duty to investors, staff, and other stakeholders.
They are obliged to safeguard the long-term health of the organization by ensuring it is stocked with future generations of leaders.
How do you do that if you are a senior executive? One of the best ways is by actively and personally committing time, energy, and focus to developing those future stewards.
Following these 5 steps can help each senior leader develop his or her leadership pipeline:
MODEL IT. Hold yourself and senior colleagues to the highest possible standards or much energy will be wasted trying to develop the up-and-coming leadership talent.
Junior leaders need role models to emulate and learn from. Whatever they see, they will emulate—good or bad. If bad behavior among senior leaders begets bad behavior among junior leaders, the most promising future talent will gradually get jaded and leave; seeking development in better run organizations.
CREATE LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES. The broad spans of control in many of today's flat organizations deprives the organization of many potential leadership roles. This results in many people having their first leadership opportunities far later than could otherwise be the case.
So, try creating a context where people can lead much earlier in their careers when the risks are lower and the time to reap the benefits of development are greater. Junior officers in the military is a good analogy.
GIVE THEM UNFAMILIAR CHALLENGES. For those with the greatest potential, some of the best opportunities for leadership development are those where they are put in situations where they are unprepared—particularly situations that are unfamiliar. How will they react to an experience or situation that they encounter for the first time?
This is one of the best laboratories for developing self-awareness and other aspects of emotional intelligence; especially for younger executives who may have known little but success. Unfamiliarity can lead to stress and this can get them off their game and highlight what their greatest vulnerabilities and pitfalls are as leaders.
JUST-IN-TIME COACHING. We learn from experience. But in the complex environment of organizational life, lessons are not always obvious. Leaders who develop other leaders must be good coaches. It is about facilitating, guiding, advising. It is about showing.
Coaching requires giving prompt and frequent feedback that both makes sense of what already happened and, more importantly, provides useful direction for improved future performance. Relying on an annual performance review for feedback is insufficient.
EVALUATE FOR POTENTIAL. Past performance may be great. But it is not a great predictor of future potential. Senior leaders can sponsor a simple but disciplined process that does not eat up time and energy and can include:
- 360 feedback; the most reliable and effective tool for predicting future leadership potential.
- Future Leaders Summit; a half-day retreat for the senior leaders to discuss the specific potential of each future leader.
- In the succession process, each role should have at least three potential candidates in the pipeline to ensure productive competition and a healthy set of future leaders.
By paying attention to, and getting personally involved in the development of future leaders, senior executives prove that it is a task as important as any other in the organization.
Read more about developing the leadership bench and see where you fall on the River Strength Meter.