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4 Ways You're Failing to Develop Future Leaders


developing future leadersRight now, your top leadership ranks likely are staffed with experienced professionals who possess tons of institutional and industry knowledge.

But will these leaders be around in five, 10, or 15 years? Retirements happen, as do changing family and personal situations, along with a dash of poaching from competitors. Those faces in your lineup today won't always be there.

Who's on deck for your company? Who's ready to step up and hit a grand slamHow are you developing future leaders?

Here are four ways many companies are failing to develop future leaders. With hope, you've avoided these mistakes.

1.) Your Future Leaders Fear Change

Ambiguity is tough. Change is tough. Employees who avoid change will get flustered at the first disruption in the industry. Their instinct will be to retreat instead of leaning into discomfort to better understand the environment. And retreating doesn't lead to innovation.

Future leaders who are troubled by ambiguity often are too rigid in their problem solving and decision making. They have tunnel vision, which may work for a hot-shot functional specialist. But this mode of thinking is a liability for a company composed of many departments.

2.) Your Future Leaders Aren't Challenged and Never Fail

Another error is allowing a leader-in-training to get bogged down in busy work with little opportunity to shine on major projects. Everyday tasks never are shifted off a potential leader's plate, and the result is that they lack inspiration and get burned out. There's no growing or stretching, just a daily grind that doesn't encourage creative problem solving.

What may be a worse fate for a developing future leader is never being allowed to fail. Failures educate in a way that successes cannot. Failing to fail results in future leaders who have never had to face the music for poor judgment and never had to come up with a Plan B in the 11th hour.

3.) Your Future Leaders are Trapped in Silos and Lack Perspective

Specialists are undeniably impressive. They know the right people and tricks to turn heads at your company — heads that make decisions about succession planning. But many specialists never work cross-functionally — that is, they don't work with employees in other departments or employees who have different specialties. These would-be leaders, while hot shots in their own right, can't zoom out for the big picture — a skill necessary for transformational leaders.

On a related note, a successful specialist without a mentor will not reach his full potential. This comes from being trapped in a silo (department) with no one to share greater perspective. Without a mentor, a standout specialist is not challenged to take on tough, long-term projects or to expand his professional network.

4.) Your Future Leaders Lack a Clear Path to the Top

Let's say you've eyeballed a potential successor. How many steps lie between her current role and her place in the C-suite? It's naive for current leaders to assume that an employee down the chain of command can jump over several levels of leadership and be effective at the top. Without practice, your leaders-in-waiting fail.

Surprising a potential leader with a grand succession scheme also is dangerous. Some very talented employees don't want the responsibility that comes with a top leadership position. Assuming that all MVP employees are ladder climbers is foolish. It leaves them in an awkward position, and it still leaves you without a successor.

Succession planning — planning for future leaders — involves business valuation and examination of ownership structures. While every business is unique, succession planning for all businesses should start early.

In some ways, these four mistakes might seem like the correct steps to take when developing future leaders. When you dig deeper, however, you can see how they are errors in managing a risk that's quite manageable.


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Photo by Anthony Majanlahti via Flickr

Topics: Construction Transportation Leadership / Strategy Manufacturing