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5 simple strategies for effective leadership development

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Effective leadership development comes in many forms. Larger companies often have structured programs, but that’s not always the case with smaller businesses.

Whether you had a formal program at one time or you’re starting from scratch, developing your company’s future leaders doesn’t have to be complicated or cost prohibitive. In fact, investing in and cultivating in-house talent will likely be less expensive and time-consuming than hiring and training new recruits.

Additionally, when you develop current employees, you’re showing that you value them. That’s a win for everybody, and it builds loyalty.

So, where do you start? Here are five practical tips to help you develop your leadership team.

1. Understand training vs development

Technical skills often come to mind first when business leaders think about training. And while those are undeniably important for any role, leadership development goes beyond job-specific training.

For example, your project manager may need to take an Excel course to become more adept with spreadsheets. But to truly reach the next level — as your future director of operations who leads a team of project managers — they’ll need a development plan that encompasses both immediate needs and future goals. Think ongoing versus one-and-done.

Successful leaders have strong soft skills, in addition to technical skills. At a minimum, you’ll want to develop your leadership team in these important areas:

  • Team building
  • Communication
  • Coaching and visioning
  • Conflict resolution
  • Negotiating

Hands-on experience is one of the best ways to develop these leadership skills – especially when combined with mentoring, role-playing, reading and supplemental classroom training.

2. Identify skill gaps and future needs

What skills are in short supply in your company? What areas need to be further developed to strengthen your team and organisation now and in the future? These are the kinds of questions you’ll need to answer before you can implement any type of leadership development program.

For instance, maybe your sales team needs to get better at presenting proposals or negotiating contracts. Or perhaps you’ve got a marketing manager who’s a brilliant communicator but needs help connecting the dots to become more strategic.

Your training for them should reflect that. Aligning individual development plans with organisational goals is key to the success of your business, as well as its current and future leaders.

3. Determine who’s best suited for future leadership

Now that you’ve got some perspective on where the knowledge gaps exist, you’ll want to consider which employees and managers to groom to fill those gaps.

First, speak with team members already in leadership positions. Take time to learn about their career aspirations. What skills and experience will they need to perform at their best now and down the road?

Next, talk to more junior employees who demonstrate leadership potential. That will provide you with an understanding of both groups’ interest and development opportunities. Then, you’ll be better equipped to determine what training and on-the-job learning they’ll need.

4. Deliver the necessary training

The formal, rigid approach to leadership development common among large companies isn’t always a good fit for leaner organisations. It’s not practical for most small businesses to have managers out of the office to attend training for days or weeks at a time.

Equally compelling, neuroscience suggests that people retain more of what they learn when it’s delivered in more frequent, shorter chunks. That means six one-hour sessions will likely work better than a single six-hour training.

And by all means, think beyond the classroom. Formal coursework is just one of many methods for developing leaders. One-to-one mentoring, experiential learning, on-the-job training, online workshops and stretch projects with coaching can also be ways for effective leadership development among the conceptual, people-focused skills needed in leaders.

5. Adopt a continuous leadership development mindset

The most effective leadership development strategy will work toward cultivating a culture of continuous improvement over a formal program. This empowers your people to take the initiative with self-directed learning and an understanding that their training and goals should align with the company’s needs.

Technology has evolved to provide infinite paths for self-directed learning, and sharing knowledge is easier than ever before with cloud-based apps like Microsoft Teams and SharePoint. Whatever strategy you put in place, frame leadership development in the context of a marathon – not a sprint.

Originally published on Vistage Research Center.

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