How Are You Developing Your Leaders of Tomorrow?

Every company that places a high priority on strategic planning recognizes the importance of developing individuals to serve as that company’s future leaders. Where do these individuals come from? There’s always the possibility of hiring someone externally with the right skills and experience. Based on our experience in the hardwood lumber industry, many times it’s more efficient, cost-effective and morale-boosting to develop tomorrow’s leaders from within your present-day workforce.

Developing a workforce with leadership skills is not easy. However, we have found that focusing on key points such as this can help build on your employees’ skills and begin grooming them for the future.

IMG 6532 crop lowDetermine what “leadership” means for your business. Nothing spurs thinking about leadership more than when one or more current leaders near retirement or move on to other positions. It’s a good idea to assess the particular leadership needs within your organization and develop, as some companies do, a “leadership track” to address those emerging concerns.

Pinpoint likely leadership candidates. Who among your employees already demonstrates leadership qualities? It could be a manager, but just as likely there are ambitious employees at any level who would benefit from focused training and development. Don’t rule anyone out because of their present position or job duties.

Offer opportunities to grow as a leader. Even those employees who seem “born” to take on a leadership role need some formal training. Create opportunities by subsidizing enrollment in leadership-related classes and workshops. Recruit industry professionals to make in-house presentations. Have a seasoned executive take on a mentorship role. Leaders don’t just magically appear—they need nurturing and encouragement to grow.

Let them gain experience—and contend with occasional setbacks. Training is important, but nothing beats on-the-ground leadership experience. Once you’ve identified your most promising candidates, look for ways for them to assume temporary responsibility for a project, a presentation, lead a meeting, etc.

If things don’t always go smoothly, that’s OK. Employees learn from their mistakes. Sometimes “it’s beneficial to push them to figure out how to get what they need—on their own,” says tech manager Avery Augustine. “Eventually, they’ll learn how to get what they need even without your help.”

Get them networking. Attending professional and industry-related events for purposes of networking is a great way to develop leadership qualities. In our industry there are many hardwood lumber association events that off this and your industry might be similar. Also encourage your targeted individuals to participate more at in-house social events, introducing themselves to people beyond their own departments. When the time is right, bring them along to a conference or tradeshow and let them loose in the crowd. These are valuable opportunities to build self-confidence, become more of an extrovert, and learn how to promote your business to strangers in an engaging way.

Model the leadership behavior you’re looking for. Remember, employees observe the way CEOs or business owners conduct themselves. You can demonstrate ongoing professionalism, courtesy, openness and accessibility—all successful leadership traits.

Learning is another behavior for leaders to model. “If managers want employees to engage in learning and development, then they need to show that they are actively pursuing their own personal learning journeys as well,” writes author and CEO Keith Ferrazzi.

As we’ve written previously, the next generation of employees is taking on more of a presence in the hardwood lumber industry (and elsewhere). New leadership styles may be required, so there’s no time like the present to identify and begin grooming those individuals for the future.

Let us know what other best practices might have worked for you!

Tony Cimorelli
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