It is not unusual for organizations to promote someone simply because they were 'all we had'. The thinking tends to be that either we promote from within for the company knowledge or we hire from outside to get the leadership skills we need. Promoting someone simply because they 'know' the company is based on the overriding belief that the employee's knowledge of the company and industry are more valuable than is their inherent leadership capabilities. Unfortunately, time typically proves them wrong.
However, the choice need not come down to an either/or proposition. It means investing today for the skills you will need tomorrow. Yes, you run the risk of someone taking their skills elsewhere. Yes, it means that you may invest in developing people that never make it to those final senior roles, but they will be infinitely more productive and successful along the way, significantly more so than if you had simply 'waited' for brilliance to shine through later.
If you adhere to the belief, as I do, that leaders are made, not born, then your corporate Leadership Development strategy should support this belief. It should also reflect the fact that leaders become great by developing and honing their skills over time, not over night due to promotion. An organization's overall performance and success hinges on one critical element - leadership. Any investment in developing the leadership skills and potential of your human resources is one that will provide an ongoing return.
The following are my top 5 Tips to keep in mind when it comes to growing your in-house Leaders, not just of tomorrow, but of all the tomorrows that follow.
Tip 1 - Start from the Start
Begin developing employees from their first day on the job. You want Leadership to become a mindset, the skills to be ingrained. Additionally, you want individuals to develop the confidence in their skills that only comes through time and practice. The sooner in their careers that your employees begin thinking and behaving as leaders the more productive and profitable will the organization be.
Tip 2 - Train in What they Need
Not every one needs to learn the same thing. Bringing everyone up to speed quickly means that you will waste time and energies in offering blanket one-size-fits-all crash-course training that is not going to hit the mark for everyone. Developing people over time allows you to customize the training they receive, working around their natural skills and abilities and truly building their proficiency.
Tip 3 -Promotions should not be Rewards
Promote the capability you need. Don't use promotions simply as rewards for great performance. What makes them great at their current role may not be what is needed to be great in the step above. Don't fall prey to the 'Peter Principle' - allowing people to rise to their highest level of incompetence. Understand where people can make the best, most positive contribution, and allow them to perform there... don't promote past it.
Tip 4 - 'Next' is not a Good Leadership Strategy
Just because someone is Next-in-line to assume a more senior role does not make them the right choice. Do not promote mediocrity. If they are uninspired and uninspiring in their current role, don't expect more from them in an advanced role. Mediocrity is a habit that you simply don't want to promote.
Tip 5 - Offer Life Experiences
Challenging, real life experiences are rich sources of learning and growth. Providing development opportunities, even on a small scale, allows people to stretch and strengthen their leadership muscles. These same challenges help provide breadth as well, allowing people to expand their repertoire of skills.