In today’s complex and volatile world, leaders need to be able to tolerate ambiguity while also using it to their advantage. Employees who can naturally see through uncertainty and inspire people to action have specific traits that highlight them as potential leaders. Nevertheless, as part of L&D, you have a role to play in how to develop leaders in your organization such that you can enable those traits to flourish.
Three signs of emerging leaders
As mentioned in a previous article covering key leadership skills, it all starts with emotional intelligence. Without it, developing leaders in your organization becomes impossible because if these emerging leaders don’t have the self-awareness to change they won’t interact effectively with others. In fact, psychologist and organizational guru, Daniel Goleman, explains that the art of leadership is applying emotional intelligence to enable people to work in their optimal state where purpose, passion and learning are intertwined.
Although, you’ll notice emotional intelligence is already an apparent trait in how emerging leaders operate. How to develop leaders in your organization starts by recognizing the traits and signs of emerging leaders in your company. Look for these 3 key traits
1: They are change agents
Emerging leaders move away from just thinking about their personal gains. Look for how employees support the wider business and community. Such people are also more likely to step back and look for different ways of doing things. They know how to keep an eye on the big picture and constantly generate ideas to create business value.
Look out for those who are relentless in overcoming roadblocks to get things done. Moreover, pay attention to who influences people, with a win-win mindset. This mindset doesn’t just lead to increased productivity but also leads to having more fulfilled coworkers. Essentially, people want to be in their teams.
2: They build trusting relationships
Recognize those who are transitioning from pure problem-solvers into strategic engagers who welcome multiple viewpoints. As explained in the 5 Levels of Leadership Agility, most lower and middle-level leaders have an expert leadership style. This means that they only use their position of authority to drive others to do things.
Compare this to potential leaders with a catalyst or co-creator leadership style and you’ll notice that they actively reach out to a wide range of stakeholders. They have a good level of emotional intelligence to cope with all forms of feedback which they further use to defuse and balance conflicting views. So, look for those who inspire trust, connection and psychological safety in their teams.
3: They develop themself and others
High potential emerging leaders know that the skills required to make an impact go far beyond tactical knowledge. They’re passionate about learning about themselves and how their beliefs influence their behaviors. Most importantly, they’re driven by supporting others in their personal growth to keep serving the wider business and community.
Overall, look for the signs from business-savvy employees who go one step further. They’re driven to improve both themselves and others to magnify organizational performance. Moreover, they operate beyond their specific remit. This means they’re constantly looking for ways to share knowledge and support others to keep growing. That’s how they also create a culture of shared accountability and passion.
Noticing and supporting your emerging leaders
You’ve spotted the signs of a potentially great leader. Now, what else do you do to develop leaders in your organization?
You need to incorporate vertical learning to support your emerging leaders and make a true shift in how you develop leaders in your organization. Not only does research show that vertical development creates better leaders. You’ll also create more balanced and fulfilled leaders.
Developing leaders through tailored coaching drives change effectively. The best way to do this is to give emerging leaders a combination of learning opportunities. For example, give them a challenging project to disrupt their normal way of operating and thinking which they can then explore with their coach.
Combine this with exposure to different cultures, teams and viewpoints. Such exposure is a powerful way to force emerging leaders to reassess their assumptions and initiate personal change. Developing leaders in your organization and enabling this process of change can only then be fully embodied by having a coach. Essentially, coaches, including language coaches, can guide leaders to interpret their experiences and to fully engage with new ways of being and thinking.
You also need to gather data systematically before, during and after your program. As explained in our article 3 Mistakes Companies Make When Assessing Learning Programs, it’s good practice to use 360 feedback tools and to gather individual feedback to assess true growth and development of leadership skills.
Human Resources clearly plays an important role in how one develops leaders in their organization. Nevertheless, those in current leadership roles also have a critical part to play. They can support emerging leaders to implement a development plan and meet their professional goals. Current leaders can also create a safe environment where challenging the status quo and learning through mistakes are encouraged.
How do the best companies develop leaders in their organizations?
- Tailored coaching. Individual development needs a unique approach in terms of how to develop leaders in your organization. Everyone has a range of experiences that they see through their own set of lenses. To truly grow, emerging leaders need to find their own ways of analyzing and interpreting situations. Coaches guide them through that by allowing them to find their own self-reflection and learning processes to keep evolving.
- Cross-functional challenges. Know when emerging leaders are getting bored. Give them a project that stretches them where they can lead and flex their style. The more cross-functional and strategic those projects can be, the more you’ll observe potential leadership traits.
- Promote external networking. Leadership maturity isn’t a solo process. The more viewpoints and different ways of doing things that emerging leaders can be exposed to, the more they expand their awareness. The idea is to move away from tunnel vision to strategic thinking by interacting with the wider industry. So, another significant step for how to develop leaders in your organization is to give emerging leaders the time and space to network outside through, for example, conferences and industry events.
How else can leadership be improved in an organization?
- Strengths-based coaching. An impactful development program shifts mindsets by leveraging coaching to give responsibility back to the learner. Developing leaders in your organization means helping them see how their strengths impact their successes and failures. Moreover, coaches give them the insight to optimize every experience as a learning opportunity.
- Promote psychological safety. Good leaders are highly self-aware and fully present in all their interactions. Their teams feel safe asking and receiving feedback and can practice peer-to-peer coaching within the workplace. This further promotes a growth mindset, another key factor for developing leaders in your organization.
- Provide learning opportunities in the workplace. Developing leaders in your organization means getting them out of their comfort zones. For instance, you can offer them special projects or international assignments. In those cases, a leadership coach becomes an even more significant guide. Without coaching, the danger is that leaders won’t transition properly. They stay stuck in their habits and don’t ever let go of old behaviors that no longer serve them.
Act now and invest in your emerging leaders
Leadership development is a complex process around how we see ourselves and make sense of the world. Emerging leaders are already showing signs of being at ease with the world’s complexity. Not only do they merge emotional intelligence with the drive to develop both themselves and others. They also push for change. This isn’t a haphazard or forceful process because they deeply care about others. This allows them to defuse conflict, welcome feedback and create a supportive environment.
To sustain their long-term growth, developing leaders in your organization means giving them the opportunities to step up. Alongside this, they need agile and mindful coaches who can serve as their guides. Together, they’ll challenge assumptions and behaviors and open up avenues for change.
Through this change, emerging leaders transform. They grow to relish complexity and variety as they in turn seek to transform their organizations. Growth and high performance become the norm as the organization reaches higher orders of agility and sustained success in this new era of unprecedented uncertainty.