If you have the right talent to work with; if you can spend time developing the “right talent”; and, if you have a structured process for developing your leaders, then fast-tracking some of your best people to be future leaders is possible. Here’s how:
- Engage the person to complete a short list of questions about what he (or she) 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.
- Present what you believe leadership is for your company, what you expect to see in a leader, and characteristics and traits of successful leaders. Present 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.
- Personally “coach” the individual or partner him with someone you trust and who represents effective leadership, preferably a leader from your company who is either still working or recently retired.
- Establish a weekly “debrief” on all that he has learned about leadership and the questions he has about situations involving leadership. You’ll soon learn to love these late Friday afternoon conversations as you begin to hear what he’s seeing, learning, and how he is “connecting the dots” of leadership.
- Assign leadership-themed books, CDs, or articles to read or listen to. Have him provide a brief “white paper” on what he learned from his reading or listening. Better yet, have him give a verbal report out of his learning from the same resources.
- Engage him 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, he can “Watch” the leader in action and then “Do” with the leader observing his actions, being sure to download what he observed and make constructive suggestions.
- 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 he is preparing to lead.
- When the leadership position is needed, 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.
- Send your new leader to mini-conferences or industry-related leadership workshops. His exposure to as much leadership-focused information, repeated at different times by different people in different forums will assist him 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.”
- 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 what he has learned to 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 he really does begin to understand what he is 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. If that happens don’t be discouraged, and don’t abandon ever doing this development effort again.
Not everyone is built to lead. Part of your task is to weed out early those who are not really good candidates so you can spend more energy and time on those who are.
*This article was originally published in 2013 and republished in 2020.