MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: How to develop your business's next leader

By identifying and fostering future leaders, you can stay ahead of the game. Here are ten top tips.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

After watching Gordon, Dave and Nick sweat it out for our votes last night, it’s only natural to think about what makes a successful leader. But in business it’s about more than a couple of TV showdowns. A good leader can make an organisation succeed against the odds; a poor one can bring down even the best enterprise. And nurturing people who could drive the organisation forward is a crucial investment in its future. MT asked Chris Phillips, from management provider Taleo, for his top pointers on finding and fostering leadership talent.

1. Make sure the leadership style fits
One of the reasons over half of new CEOs never make it past the four-year mark is poor organisational fit. There’s no one golden approach to leadership, but making the most of psychological and behavioural assessments will give you the best chance of a happy match.

2. Know what you want
To spot potential leaders among the workforce, identify the skills and qualities you value as leadership necessities, from communication to witty public speaking (potential PMs take note). By developing a structured competency model, you can build these skills into a performance management system to rate the potential of each employee.

3. Don’t confuse managing with leading

Make sure you’ve got it straight: a manager ensures the smooth day-to-day running of their team or department but leaders need to be able to influence and drive the whole organisation towards a common goal. Good managers can become good leaders, but the step up is by no means guaranteed.

4. Spot leadership gaps
By pinpointing your existing and future leadership needs and measuring these up to the current leadership team, you can spot your weaknesses. A thorough approach can also identify leaders who are likely to leave, so you can put steps in place to ensure a smooth transition to a successor.

5. Develop succession strategies
Whether you anticipated an important employee jumping ship or not, succession planning is a no-brainer for minimising disruption. Identifying potential leaders and preparing them to fill roles at a later date can reduce both the financial cost and the impact the change will have on productivity. Succession planning shouldn’t just be for execs; the right systems allow you to track replacements for all critical roles.

6. Push future leaders to hone their skills
Using your brand new competency model (see no.2), identify the experience and skill gaps in potential leaders. Then tackle them with a development plan of formal and informal learning. Employers definitely have a role to play, but the emphasis should be on the individual to ensure that they deliver on that fabulous potential.

7. Adopt mentoring
The mentoring model is all the rage and lets you filter experience and expertise through the workforce. Social media can be a key tool in your box, breaking down communication boundaries and making it easier to collaborate within organisations. Facebook fan page, anyone?

8. Plan careers
If you don’t provide employees with career planning and advancement opportunities, your competitors will. Leaders often get short-changed on development opportunities as critical roles are too costly for a business to do without. Focusing on self-service career planning will motivate and retain potential leaders by encouraging them to consider their future career within your business.

9. Retain your leaders
Holding onto leaders is critical for two reasons: turnover is expensive and losing talent can lead to a significant decrease in productivity. Use both monetary and non-monetary means to keep top performers firmly on board. Whatever methods you use, ensure an employee’s personal goals are aligned with your organisation’s.

10. Measure, analyse, improve
There’s no point doing any of this unless you objectively measure the outcomes of your leadership development strategies, to ensure ROI and identify possible improvements. A unified talent management system will let executive teams access data on current and future leaders and suss out the strengths and weaknesses in the leadership pipeline.

Chris Phillips is a vice-president at management provider Taleo, whose new report examines the importance of leadership and lays out a series of tips for developing future business leaders.

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