Never Stop Developing People

How can managers and leaders develop the people who report directly to them so these direct reports can assume more responsibility?

  • To develop people to take on more responsibility, a leader must support and coach people so they can cultivate new skills and embrace opportunities for professional development and personal growth. Leaders must guide others to create their own development plans, not do it for them. People are more productive when they take ownership of their plans.
  • You have to set expectations, encourage people to achieve their goals, praise their success often, and ensure the flow of open communication. Leaders must challenge, probe, and ask questions to reach decision-making. Learn to ask open-ended questions such as: How does that work? What does that mean? If you do this, what do you think may happen? Why do you think it will work? What’s your next step? Which tools do you need? These questions teach people to become analytical and think more strategically. Lastly, you must empower people by giving them ownership, which shows your confidence in their abilities and enables them to succeed or fail on their own.
  • See that each employee is not just doing a job, but that his reach is also being stretched. Assign people to jobs in much the same way that sports coaches or music teachers choose exercises for their students, to push them just beyond their current capabilities and build the skills that are most important. About two-thirds of people’s development comes from carefully chosen job assignments and about one-third from mentoring coaching and classroom training. Put managers into stretch jobs that require them to learn and grow. For people trying to improve, making real decisions in real time is the central practice activity that produces growth. Your hardest experience – the stretches that most challenge you – are the most helpful.
  • Find ways to develop leaders in their jobs. You experience tension between your need to develop people by moving them through different jobs and you need to develop their expertise in certain domains by leaving them in jobs. A division has a tough time competing when the boss moves on every 18 to 24 months (a typical pattern). The challenge is to provide the growth benefits of new stretch assignments without moving people into new jobs so often.
  • Know the critical roles of teachers and constantly provide feedback. Great performance is built through activities designed specifically to improve particular skills. Teachers and coaches are helpful in designing those activities. Yet at most organizations, nobody is assigned the role of teacher or coach. Employees aren’t told which skills will be most helpful to them, nor how best to develop them. Top-performing organizations have explicit coaching and mentoring programs. Careful job assignments and other programs determine the direction of an employee’s development; mentors provide detailed advice on which subset of skills need attention immediately. And people receive frequent, rapid, and accurate feedback to improve performance.
  • Identify promising performers early. Working on people’s development early creates huge advantages, and yet in most companies, development programs are reserved for an elite group of executives who are several years into their careers. Developing future leaders early creates a competitive advantage that lasts for decades, as their pipelines of high achievers become bigger, better, and more reliable.
  • Develop people through inspiration, not authority. Deliberate practice activities are so demanding that no one can sustain them for long without strong motivation. The best leaders contribute to that motivation through a sense of mission. Identifying or even creating an inspiring sense of mission requires a journey deep into the corporate soul.
  • Invest time, money, and energy in developing people. People development is at the center of the CEO’s responsibilities. Indeed, the biggest investment may be the time of the CEO and other executives. As they see what the boss is focusing on, they become similarly devoted to developing people. Not that these companies rely solely on the power of example. Virtually all of them evaluate executives partly on how well they’re developing people, including themselves.

Jacket image, Seven Disciplines of a Leader by Jeff WolfMake leadership development part of the culture. At the best companies, developing leaders isn’t a program, it’s a way of life. For example, honest feedback has to be culturally acceptable; at many companies it isn’t. Devoting time to mentoring has to be accepted.

Adapted from Seven Disciplines of a Leader (Wiley) by Jeff Wolf.

For further information to grow your leaders contact us today at Wolf Management Consultants at (858) 638-8260.

Never Stop Developing People first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

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