The Contractor’s Best Friend /05-01-2013/ 10 Steps to Fast-tracking Leaders

Over the past few months I have had the honor to speak at several conventions and trade shows. Several themes have continued to be directed my way about issues and challenges for many contractors. Some of the themes are related to marketing and business development, several are focused on operations, but a significant number revolve around the leadership theme. More specifically, the theme of leadership development.

To further the refinement of leadership development is the need by many contractors to develop their up-and-coming leaders as quickly as possible. The term thrown at me during many of these sidebar conversations was “fast tracked.”

“Brad, how can I fast-track some of my best potential employees to take over some of my open leadership holes?”

Most of you reading this article have probably asked the same or similar question, so let’s address it as best we can in this discussion.

But before addressing that question let’s ask a preparation question:

Can a contractor fast-track an individual to be a leader?

The answer? Yes…and Maybe! How’s that for surety? First of all, yes, you can fast-track some individuals in preparing them for a new role, including any role of leadership for which you feel they may be a good candidate. But my “maybe” is due to the reality that not all individuals learn and develop at the same rate. Some of our “high potentials” might take to a leadership function like a duck to water. Others may need more time to slug it out, learning how to prepare a daily work agenda for his crew or her project team.

I must state that in my experience, if you have the right talent to work with, if you have the desire and time as a contractor or senior leader to spend developing the “right talent," and if you have an organized process for developing your leaders -- including making the time to do it -- then yes, I think you can fast-track some of your next leaders.

So then, let’s us now address the question asked earlier.

“How can I fast-track some of my best potential employees to take over some of my open leadership holes?”

The key to remember here is “some of my best people.” Certainly you will have a difficult to impossible task trying to fast-track an individual who simply either has “no brain mass” that works well or someone who is simply not interested, motivated, or mature enough to put in the extra study time to be a leader. You have to be honest at this very important first effort.

Assuming you have what I call, the “high potential” individual available, consider a few quick efforts to make in shortening their leadership development experience.


  1. Engage the individual to complete a short list of questions about what he thinks leadership is and why he believes he may be a candidate. This provides a little context about how he feels about the opportunity. It also provides you with a benchmark of sorts about what the individual knows about leadership, what his “paradigm” of leadership is and where you may need to start in his development process.
  2. Present to the individual what you believe leadership is for your company, what you expect to see in a leader, and characteristics and traits of successful leaders. Present him with clear levels of leadership, describing what a new leader might need to do and then what some of the future levels of leadership might look like.
  3. Personally “coach” the individual or partner them with someone you trust and who represents effective leadership -- preferably a leader from your company who is either still working or recently retired.
  4. Establish a weekly “debrief” covering all that he has learned about leadership and providing an opportunity to ask questions that he has about situations involving leadership. You’ll soon learn to love these late Friday afternoon conversations as you begin to hear what this individual is seeing, learning, and how he is “connecting the dots” of leadership.
  5. Assign leadership-themed books, CDs, or articles to read or listen to. Have the individual provide a brief “white paper” on what he has learned from his reading or listening. Better yet, have him give a verbal report out of his learning from the same resources.
  6. Engage the individual in any opportunities to do what I call a “Watch – Do.” This effort involves having him assist another leader and taking on some of that leader’s responsibilities. Thus, the individual can “Watch” the leader in action and then “Do” with the leader observing his actions, being sure to download what he observed and making constructive suggestions.
  7. Schedule a series of short-term leadership stints. This might be covering for another leader out on vacation or taking on portions of a work process that can be monitored and coached. It’s important that the individual is matched up with as many exact opportunities that reflect the real job they are preparing to lead.
  8. When the leadership position is open, assign the fast-tracked individual to that position and place him on a 90-day watch. For the first 90 days be sure to check in with the new leader daily and continue your Friday debriefs to insure he is getting the needed answers to questions. Be sure to prepare questions to keep him thinking and continue to assign reading or listening resources.
  9. Send your new leader to mini-conferences or industry-related workshops about leadership. His exposure to as much leadership-focused information, repeated at different times by different people in different forums will assist this individual in figuring out where he is in his leadership quest. Trust me, this will not overload most of your high-potentials but will enhance their understanding as they visit with other industry leaders, many of them learning as well and providing some comfort to your leader that “I’m not the only one in this situation.”
  10. Just as soon as you can, have your new leader take on his own “protégé” to coach and mentor. I have found this to be one of the most successful follow-up efforts, as the individual now must try to put into words and teach another. Most effective teachers and trainers will tell you that there is nothing quite like having to think about how to demonstrate or communicate a principle or teaching point to another person. It helps the individual to truly internalize the information and reformat in such a way that they really do begin to understand what they are to do as a leader.

There is a commitment you must make as a contractor or senior leader in your efforts to bring along a new leader as fast as you can. This is not a piece of cake to pull off and you may have some candidates who will not “graduate” from the accelerated program. But if that happens don’t be discouraged and abandon ever doing this development effort again. Not everyone is built to lead. Part of your task is to weed out those who are not really good candidates early and spend more energy and time on those who are.

Fast-tracking is not new. I’ve helped many contractors in formalizing their own unique approach. If you are interested in doing the same, start today by following the “10 Step Program” above.

Let me complete this article by asking a couple of questions that perhaps you can respond to on our blog:

What have you found that works best to fast-track leaders in your company? And, how long did it take to get some positive and measureable results?

Well, don’t be in too big of a hurry if you are planning on fast-tracking some “high potential” workers. Remember: Be organized, have a plan, prepare for the time, remind the individual that he will need to do some off-duty studying… and stay with it!

Now it’s your turn: Fast-track getting the resources you need and organize a schedule so you can start your development efforts.

Good luck!

Brad Humphrey  

© 2013 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™