5 surefire ways to develop leadership skills in employees

Effective leaders must know how to develop leadership skills in employees. More importantly, they should understand that developing their employees is one of the main focuses of their job.

As long-time Generals Electric CEO Jack Welch once said: “Before you become a leader, success is all about growing yourself. After you become a leader, success is about growing others.”

Training employees to be leaders helps keep them engaged, shows them that they’re valued, and prepares them to take on greater responsibilities.

For executives, training employees to be leaders allows them to see what employees are ready to take on a leadership role, versus those who may need more training or simply aren’t cut out to be leaders.

Some leaders fear that training is a waste — employees will simply go find another job with their newly won skills. But heed the warning of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

Here are five ways that executives can develop leadership skills in employees.

1) Stretch assignments

Tim Sieck, principal of On Target Talent, says he believes that stretch assignments — those just beyond what an employee is used to doing — are one of the best employee development tools.

“When done correctly these assignments serve a dual purpose of providing learning opportunities for your people, while at the same time completing a project or task that will help the organization,” he wrote.

Stretch assignments challenge employees to fill their skill and knowledge gaps, while also preparing them to eventually take on a leadership role.

Executives should use stretch assignments often, but not so often to cause burnout. Like with anything else, executives must strike a balance.

2) Focus on goals, not tasks

Motivational speaker Les Brown gave one of the best quotes on the importance of goals: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

This is the mindset that executives should impart upon their employees. Effective executives train employees to make the connection between goals and the tasks.

Rather than focusing only on day-to-day tasks, employees must also consider the big picture. How can their tasks be suited to the bigger organization goal? Or their own developmental goals?

Even if employees don’t meet the exact goal, their aim has been high and their achievement is sure to follow.

3) Provide a mentor

Matching employees with a mentor can be a great gift, both to the employee and the organization.

A mentor gives employees guidance and feedback on their performance, listens to questions and concerns, and helps employees work on their areas of growth.

More than anything, mentors provide inspiration. As Oprah Winfrey once said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”

Mentors are typically successful people, but still: they are but people, achieving success as human beings. If they can do it, so too can employees.

Mentors can show employees the roadmap to their success, while helping employees draft their own roadmap. And a company full of people with a roadmap to success is a well-staffed company.

4) Delegate authority

Delegating authority is a testing ground, allowing executives to see if employees are ready to lead.

One of the biggest CEO mistakes is getting stuck in the weeds with time-consuming tasks that a team member could take on. When an executive sees that an employee has been working well when given more, they can delegate one of their time-consuming meetings or decisions to the employee.

Once the employee has been given authority, the executive can assess their budding leadership skills. Effective leaders delegate authority and see what they learn. Often, they’re pleasantly surprised.

5) Demonstrate the importance of listening skills

Listening is an art. For years, Chris Voss served as an FBI hostage negotiator, using active listening to help free people from captivity. He called his form of listening “tactical empathy”— Voss used information gleaned from listening to solve problems.

“This is listening as a martial art, balancing the subtle behaviors of emotional intelligence and the assertive skills of influence, to gain access to the mind of another person,” Voss wrote in Never Split the Difference. “Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.”

And this active skill is crucial for employees who want to become leaders. Listening is the act of being completely engaged with someone else’s perspective, working to understand even when they don’t seem to make sense.

If employees want to become leaders, they must become expert listeners. Listening is perhaps the most high-value leadership development skill, one most people lack. Those who listen well set themselves apart as future leaders.

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