It’s the age-old question: are leaders born or made?
While there’s no hard and fast verdict, the general consensus is that it’s a combination of both – more specifically, one-third ‘born’ and two-thirds ‘made’, according to Psychology Today.
And that’s good news for your organisation and any up-and-coming leaders you’ve identified whom, regardless of their natural abilities, will need development to reach their full potential.
Investing in the development of budding leaders can also help your not-for-profit attract and retain the best talent, grow faster, and cultivate a strong and sturdy future.
In a recent article, a number of prominent members of the Forbes Coaches Council – an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches – shared their best tips for helping your organisation’s leaders develop their skills:
1. Give them access to high-level challenges
Does your organisation keep its ‘delicate’ issues behind closed doors?
Start sharing them with potential leaders, says Linkage Inc’s Matt Norquist. He says openly discussing difficult topics can generate new ideas or solutions, and allow budding leaders to demonstrate their strategic capabilities.
2. Form peer groups
Want to engage your NFP’s high-potential staff? Bring them together.
Practical, cross-disciplinary collaborations are a great way to expose high-potential staff to strategic thinking, new connections and wider skillsets.
CareerCoach.com’s Tanya Ezekiel also advocates getting senior leadership involved to help the group gain momentum, or hiring a facilitator to add a fresh spin.
3. Create a learning culture
Picture an elite athlete in need of development. According to consultant Christopher Kenny, a formal program won’t do the trick – but a complete shift in cultural mindset might.
Accordingly, Kenny advocates that organisations nurture a learning culture that allows budding leaders to practice their craft, experiment with new techniques and review results with the view to make improvements.
4. Provide exposure to all parts of the organisation
Leaders should have a grasp on multiple areas and functions of your organisation. But how can you achieve this?
Managing director of career services organisation Riklan Resources, Michelle Riklan, suggests arranging for potential leaders to shadow staff in other departments or areas. This will allow them to gain a deeper understanding of how each organisational function feeds into the bigger picture.
5. Tell people if you recognise leadership potential
So you’ve noticed a staff member is excellent leadership material – now what?
Tell them, says Bill Gardner of consulting firm Noetic Outcomes. Offer coaching and explore which skills are in need of development. Communicate that you’re investing in their development – and that their success rests on them doing the same.
6. Find them a mentor
The value of mentors has long been appreciated – but John O’Connor of Career Pro Inc says a mentor should be a non-negotiable for potential leaders. He suggests implementing a mentorship program as form of investing in your organisation’s future.
“Mentoring involves a care for a person that a boss to employee relationship only implies,” he says.
7. Assign ‘stretch’ tasks
Want to see a potential leader develop their thinking and build their skills at a rapid pace? Give them an assignment just beyond their current scope of capability, says Maureen Metcalf of management consultancy Metcalf and Associates.
This could take the form of a short-term strategic project or leading a team of people for the first time.
8. Combine mentoring with stretch tasks
Carolyn Esposito of US-based consultancy firm Talent Pathways says the best development strategy “combines action and reflection” – and that means a stretch assignment coupled with mentorship can be incredibly powerful.
That’s because learning or experiencing something for the first time – and then being able to discuss that process or receive critique on it – can lead to well-rounded leaders who are better at making decisions.
9. Pay for staff training
Where your organisation’s budget allows, Career Solvers’ Barbara Safani suggests offering high-potential staff members the opportunity to develop their skills through relevant training.
The upshot is three-fold: it’ll develop the staff member’s knowledge and expertise, increase their engagement and loyalty, and equip your organisation with previously untapped expertise.
10. Assign a point of contact to each organisational priority
Willis Professional Services’ Jada Willis advocates asking for volunteers or assigning high-potential staff as points of contact for different organisational priorities or objectives.
They’ll report on updates, drive success and rally other team members for accountability – it’s also a great way to improve staff development and morale.
Encourage senior leaders to delegate some responsibilities to a potential leader for whom the tasks could be a great development opportunity.
Innovative Leadership International’s Suzi Pomerantz says that by providing clear expectations and mentorship to help guide the staff member, leaders will also be freed up for more strategic thinking and influence.
12. Plan for succession
With those future leaders, discuss their goals and interests and develop an individualised plan focused on them specifically rather than the organisation.
13. Create an internship program for potential leaders to oversee
Profitable CEO’s Linette Montae suggests implementing a formal internship program, which has multiple advantages: interns gain experience, staff administering the program brush up on their leadership skills, and your organisation provides development for potential leaders – benefitting from their expertise later on.
14. Offer a chat with current leaders over a coffee
Want to open the minds of both potential and established leaders?
According to Michelle Braden of MSB Coach, scheduling informal chats between the two is a powerful way to build lasting connections that are mutually beneficial.
Developing your organisation’s potential leaders needn’t be complicated or expensive – you just need to put a little thought into your strategies and commit to the process. After all, what have you got to lose – apart from your brightest future leaders?
How do you develop leaders in your organisation? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.