Growing Leaders

Throughout management, I often hear from colleagues and others about not having the right people in the right places. I also hear quite often the “youth of today” don’t have the values to become leaders. As a result, there have been many books written about different ways of training and various stages of  leadership. 

Becoming a leader

I want to take a look at an 8 step process for growing the future line of leaders. People can utilize the process in any journey, but I will concentrate on the pathway to leadership. 

We must remember that the biggest mistake in investing in others is not planning and being patient. Potential Leaders should be prepared in a slow cooker and not grilled at high temperatures to get them done faster!! Or think of the example of a farmer who plants a crop of corn. That farmer has an idea of what he would like his yield based on what he sowed. He also knows that if he harvests his grain early, he will miss out on his potential because the crop was not fully matured. Unfortunately, we often do this with our leaders by speeding up the process or the good old-fashioned baptism by fire, let’s throw them in, and they will either make it or not. 

When we do this, leaders often create additional problems within the workplace as these individuals try to come up to speed. When a potential leader is in a situation, it is effortless for them to become disengaged. In some instances, they go from being a star employee to becoming average. A recent John Hopkins survey of leaders found that 20% of first-time managers are doing a poor job, 26% feel they were not ready to lead others when they started, and 60% say they never received any training. With this data in hand, it is clear that current managers could help the process by learning about maturing the future line of leaders!

top view of notebooks with leadership ideas on wooden tabletop in office

I think that we would all agree that a good leader will exhibit Experience, Wisdom, and Humility. However, these three traits can only be gained with time. They can not be expedited or given as a supplement taken once daily! We can, however, help our future leaders in the following ways:

  • Create situations that will increase their relevant experiences
  • Provide and introduce them to sources of proper knowledge to consume
  • Get them involved with relevant associations and peer groups
  • Encourage and mentor them during good and bad situations

To further expand on the above examples, each leader must go through 4 stages to become a great leader! 

  1. I don’t know what I don’t know. Many times someone in a new position or within a new company suffers from this natural blind spot. As a plant manager of production plants, I changed companies to take a similar role at a different company. I knew how to do the job and figured that was all that I needed! I did not take the time to get to know the employees at first or the memoir of the plant! I could not figure out why one of the employees was very aggressive until someone finally pulled me aside and let me know that a few hours before my arrival, they had demoted him from the position I was currently filling…Knowing this was valuable information for me as I was coming in as a change agent. 
  2. I know what I don’t know. After some time and investigation, a leader starts to figure out what they don’t know. Now that the leader knows what they don’t know, they will begin to plan to gain that knowledge and move into the next phase!
  3. I know and grow, and it starts to show! In phase three, the potential leader begins to put their learning plan into action. As they continue to gain knowledge, people around them start to notice. The biggest pitfall here can be that current leaders must be paying attention. In some situations, if we are not paying attention, the people who may notice may be the competition!
  4. I go and do because of what I know! When they finally get to phase 4, they start to act as a true leader and act based on their knowledge, experience, and vision of the future! When the leader reaches this level, they are now capable of raising the next leader!

Not all people make it to phase 4; in fact, many people stay in phase 1 or 2 for their entire lives. That is fine, but we as leaders need to identify this and not spend a tremendous amount of time getting someone who does not want to move out of stage 1 to stage 4! I once had a great phase one employee who I pushed into a supervisory role. The employee told me several times that they did not want this responsibility! I went ahead because I couldn’t understand why anyone would not want to “better” themselves and reach their highest potential. Well, as you may imagine, I was only to find out that I had turned a great employee into a disgruntled employee! 

I also want to take a moment to address another common failure in maturing future leaders. We often internally find a great candidate who is ready to transition into the leadership process, but they are currently filling a different role. So naturally, we look for a replacement to get this person into our leadership process. Unfortunately, we hurry this process out of excitement and hire someone who may require a tremendous amount of training or simply don’t work out. We then task the future leader with not only preparing for leadership but with their old job duties. This back and forth can very quickly lead to disgruntlement with this individual. People thrive on having a vision and direction. But, If that vision and leadership are regularly changing, it would be effortless and natural for that individual to withdraw into their old job duties. The best way to avoid this is to allow the replacement person to be trained and ready before saddling the potential leader with more work!

What is Leadership?

The below process is to be a guideline for success. Following these steps will significantly increase your odds of training and preparing a leader properly. There is no set time for this, and it will be different depending on the situation. If the person is making continual improvement, all are on the right track. We must get ourselves out of the mindset that we can find a perfect leader and plug them in; unfortunately, leadership is not a plug-and-play environment. The following steps should be applied in addition to each other. So, for example, once you get step one down, you should continue with it and add step two. You do not want to move onto step 2 and stop doing step 1!

  1. Labor–the potential leader has to start somewhere, and they must labor to understand the business that they are working in. You must begin with this approach. The person needs to be willing to do the hard work, have faith that they are learning, and continue the process. If they are not willing to do the hard work of understanding the business and industry, they are not the correct candidate! Move on! 
  2. Stretching — they must stretch for more. As the new leaders labor on the front side and learn, they must be willing to extend and reach for more while acting with sound character and virtue. The potential leader must want to stretch themselves into new areas and, at times, uncomfortable stretches. Pushing into new and uncomfortable areas is the only path forward!
  3. Learning — As they stretch, the leader must look for knowledge to consume. Current leaders can aid in this step by helping the person find relevant knowledge. Current leaders also need to interact with the new leader and mentor to ensure that the individual is getting the knowledge they will need. Sometimes the knowledge can be the current leader sharing their experiences!
  4. Focus — We must help to keep this person focused. It is widespread at this point to get the person distracted. One common hindrance at the step is to move the person to a specific job out of necessity. The reassignment will stop or reverse the process, and when we come back to the plan, we will possibly start over again! This step is also where many potential leaders feel as though they may never get there. It is essential to reassure them that leadership is a continual journey and not an uber ride with a defined stop!
  5. Accountability — Many times, we think of accountability as something that we must hold others. Although this is true, All we need to do as managers is pay attention and let others know that we are paying attention. The best way to improve something is to track and watch it. At another historically poor-performing production facility that I was responsible for, we increased production numbers by 15%. The only thing I did to make this miracle happen was start to post the production numbers each day in the lunchroom, and I never said anything else about it.
  6. Building on the past — Growth always uses past experiences. At this point in the process, the potential leader can start to draw off of past experiences. One of the best things you can do for a leader is to expose them to other leaders and other businesses like yours. The integration with others will give them exponentially more experiences and others experiences to draw. 
  7. Application — Growth solidifies when you start to practice all that you know and your experiences. as you work to do this, the results will begin to increase rapidly and by vast amounts. Application is the most exciting step for both the new and current leaders because they have now arrived at a point where the new leader has become a seasoned leader. 
  8. Gratitude — Lastly, don’t be afraid to show the person that you are very grateful for them and how far they have come. 

I would be remiss to end this without saying a few more things about this process. As with all procedures, it is rarely as straightforward to keep adding one after the other, and in 6 months, you will have a great leader. Many times we will suffer setbacks and regression during the process. The key is not to lose sight of the process and know where the potential leader is along the path. The eight steps are also a process that should involve as many people along the way as possible, the more people who are interested and know the plan, the better the result will be. 

I would also remind you that you can use this process for other types of learning as well. For example, maybe you want to train a new electrician! If so, you can apply these same steps to build out your training program. 

Many of you reading this article will say, well, I already knew most of that or at least portions of it. There is nothing new here, but you now have a starting process for building your program. The biggest hindrance most companies and leaders have is that they do not have a written procedure for training new employees. I assure you that if you overlay this 8 step process and work it, you will see drastic improvements in your training and increased efficiency. 

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