By design, every human being has the capacity, potential, and raw material to become a leader. You don’t need title and position to lead. It’s a tragedy that most people living on Earth today will bury the leader trapped within them in the grave of a follower. Many of us are products of our environment, lacking the will and the courage to change, to develop our potential and become who we are born to be. That’s why leadership development inside organizations is so vitally important. Not only do our organizations have a chance to develop our future leaders, but also to produce better human beings to live in their communities. But that’s a real challenge for businesses.
Becoming a true results-oriented leader is not easy. It’s true that every human being is born with the ability to lead, but they must develop themselves to become a leader, just as a person born a male must go through development to become a man. (The same applies to females becoming women.) And regardless of title, you cannot be a leader without followers. Being a leader is not being a manager. Being a leader is not being a boss. A person who has subordinates but has no followers is not a leader.
A leader is one who leads others to leadership. A leader leads themselves first and, by so doing, inspires others to follow them.
Today, organizational leaders know intuitively they need to create an environment that produces leaders, but they’re sometimes confused on the strategy and tactics of doing so. Great companies are developed from the inside out, not the other way around. And while customers are ultimately important, they’ll receive treatment and service based on what is already present inside the company — improving the inside automatically improves the outside, and that improvement happens through development. Here are a few points business leaders should consider when building a development-oriented culture of leadership.
- Vision. It’s the air leaders breathe. It’s the atmosphere that ensures leaders’ survival. It’s the why and the where. We must always provide a vision that both sustains and requires leaders.
- A plan. While we can’t know every twist and turn along the road, we must have a general direction, a plan for developing leaders. We have to invest time and energy thinking through the plan and understanding it intimately.
- Opportunity. Those we develop cannot sit idly by. We must provide them with genuine opportunities to use their training. We must delegate responsibilities to them, let them learn on the job, trust them, and make ourselves available for ongoing guidance.
- Recognition. In our enthusiasm to develop good leaders, we can’t forget to balance feedback with recognition. We can’t let our high standards and expectations stand in the way of positive comments. There’s nothing that helps a developing leader more than sincere praise and guidance for getting better through growth. We must let people know how we feel about them. This also must be balanced publicly and privately.
- Time. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to leadership development — but that’s one of the reasons I love it. Everyone can do it, but few choose to do it. It takes long-term courage, risk, and commitment, but there’s nothing more rewarding across every area of a person’s life. The fact is that it requires a space in your life that’s a priority over other busywork. Remember that everything gets better when your people get better.
- Gratitude. We should be grateful for the opportunity to develop others and for the trust they’ve given us. Their future vision is under our current supervision.
- Self-development. To develop other leaders, we must continue growing ourselves through our own personal development plan. In order to be teachers, we must be willing to be taught by those who have been sent into our lives for that purpose.
- Popularity (or lack thereof). We all have our favorite teachers, but often those who may not be our favorites have the most relevant message for our lives. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard from former Norm Stewart players about how much they initially disliked his coaching style and discipline. It wasn’t until later they truly began to value what he did for them through that process.
- Freedom. Every parent knows that someday our children will leave home. There is an appropriate time to release leaders we’ve developed, whether it’s to another area of the company or outside the company altogether. That doesn’t mean the relationship ends. It just changes.
Tony Richards is an organizational and executive development expert and CEO of Clear Vision Development Group, a leadership and strategy firm in Columbia, Missouri. He is one of Inc. magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers and thinkers. His firm’s website is www.clearvisiondevelopment.com. Follow Tony on Twitter @tonyrichards4.