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Leadership Potential: How to Develop Leaders in the Workplace

Champlain College Online

Rather than looking outside the organization to identify talent for leadership roles, it's becoming increasingly common for organizations to identify and develop leaders from within. This is a smart move: not only is it often less expensive to invest in development programs rather than recruiting externally, but doing so also ensures that organizations will have a strong pipeline of talent that's well-educated in the industry, familiar with the organization and its culture, and dedicated to the company's growth. From an employee perspective, having clear career pathways and opportunities for growth and advancement will increase retention and motivation.

So how can organizations find ways to spot emerging leaders and go about developing leaders in the workplace? Here are some top strategies for identifying and developing talent within an organization.

Learn to Recognize Leadership Potential

The first step in identifying leaders is to understand what it means to be a good leader, and the qualities that a good leader should possess. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Communication
  • Accountability
  • Responsibility
  • Strategic thinking
  • Interpersonal skills

Managers should be trained to identify these skills in their direct reports, and should prioritize nurturing and developing these skills in employees over time, as a critical part of their ongoing professional development.

Create Internal Leadership and Management Training Opportunities

Many organizations outsource their leadership training, thinking it's easier than investing time and money into build one of their own. However, creating internal programs dedicated to employee development can be an excellent strategy for organizations who are experiencing business growth or who often need to fill management-level roles. The benefit of creating such programs (whether they're completely internal, or built with the support and expertise of an external education partner) is that they'll reflect your organizational values and can be customized to highlight business goals, industry trends, and real-life situations, to help you produce leaders who are ready to step directly into a leadership position at your company.

Help Employees Map a Career Path

It's essential that employees have a clear picture of what internal growth looks like at your organization, and what becoming a leader will take. Start career development conversations early, and continue to have them regularly, so that those you've tapped as future leaders know that they're on track, can work on areas that need improvement, and have concrete next steps (and, ideally, a timeline) to make the path to leadership as clear as possible.

Give Emerging Leaders Opportunities to Grow

It's important that emerging leaders be given opportunities to grow prior to actually stepping into a leadership role. Perhaps this might mean overseeing an intern or student worker; taking on new responsibilities in other areas of the business; taking the lead on a big project; or pursuing a degree or certificate to help them build skills. Encouraging this growth is key in helping employees expand and diversify their skillsets and become more confident in leadership roles. 

Create Mentorship Opportunities

Mentorship is one of the best ways of developing leaders in the workplace, and so building mentorship programs - whether formal or informal - within your organization is an excellent way to help emerging leaders grow. Mentorship programs give employees the opportunity to learn from more senior colleagues, and also can provide these potential leaders a resource to turn to for career advice and guidance in tricky management scenarios. Organizations can and should encourage senior employees to mentor employees identified as having leadership potential, or create a more formal mentorship system of existing leaders with emerging leaders across the organization.

These are just a few of the ways organizations can develop leadership potential in the workplace. By keeping communication open, incorporating leadership into regular professional development, and giving emerging leaders opportunities to grow, organizations can begin to build their leadership pipelines from within. 


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