The Developing Leader

You have a problem on your hands. Your employees, not all, but many of them, are chronically unhappy working for you. You’ve built a nice organization. You have lots of amenities including programs for after-work sports and service projects around the city. You do giveaways of tickets for local events. You have a state-of-the-art facility with meals and snacks prepared by professional chefs.

You give them every benefit and amenity that is offered in your industry, wooing the best talent from other companies. The company you’ve built is the best of the best in the industry, yet people are leaving in droves, among them some of the best young talent. They put in a few years out of college, and then they leave for another job.

You decided to run focus groups to figure out why. It turns out the top reason people are dissatisfied with your company is that you and the other leaders aren’t providing them with new opportunities and you micromanage your people. But that can’t be! You’ve read those things before on Glassdoor, but those were ne’er-do-wells and malcontents who were complaining when they got fired for not doing their jobs right. All the people who are still at your firm are given every opportunity to succeed.

You make sure you’re right there helping them with every project. You provide instruction and guidance on wording for their reports. You create templates for company memos for every possible circumstance and you’re there with them through rain and sunshine to guide them through the hard waters of client work, project management and the daily grind of menial administrative tasks. You’re constantly helping them, so what’s the problem?

The problem is you. You are constantly in the way of your people and therefore in the way of your organization skyrocketing. You like to think you’re helping your people by “coaching” them in every little detail of their jobs, but what you’re doing is suffocating them. When you create templates for umpteen different scenarios for company memos and chastise your employee for not using the approved template, what you’re saying is, “I don’t trust you to say what needs said.”

If you want your organization not just to survive but to thrive, you have to examine how you treat your people. No person is a finished product, and all employees need guidance from their bosses. What employees don’t need is your list of must-haves a mile long. Your “must-haves” are really just wants. You have certain flavors you’ve grown accustomed to because your employees, like their predecessors before them, are afraid of giving you a cookie without exactly 7 chocolate chips, no more and no less.

Do you want to make a change? Good! Your company needs your leadership and your expertise. Help your people get where they want to go. Here are two things you can do starting today.

Paint the picture

Several years into the job your best employee wants more. Not more money, but that would be great. She wants to know when she will be promoted. She’s good at what she does, but you can’t bear to lose her in her current role. So you leave her there, continuing to deliver her excellent results, but what you don’t know is she resents it. She has been in that role for too long, and she is bored. She needs you, her leader, to lay it out for her.

“When will I get a chance at my next role? Here’s what I’m wanting to do. Will you give me a shot?”

“Sorry, you’re too inexperienced.”

“Sorry, we need you to continue delivering in your current role.”

“Sorry, we’re putting something together for you, but now is not the time.”

So she leaves the company, and then you start over.

Face it. When you failed to paint the picture for her, you blew it. You focused on where she needed to grow, pointing out reasons why she didn’t merit a new role. Trust me when I say – you should have done better by her. Resolve today not to fail the next employee to come with those questions.

Lay out a plan for what you would like him to accomplish and what you’re looking for in someone who fills that role he’s after. Do you want someone with more project management experience? Give him the chance to manage a project. Give him what he needs to get that experience. Do you want someone who is technically proficient and this is just not the role for him? Be honest that it’s not a good fit and affirm what talents he does have and steer him to a role that better fits his skills and experience. He might not have considered a different role, and he might be glad you directed him.

Your people want to know that you know them and care about where they’re heading. Take some time to consider what each of your people brings to the table and how you might maneuver the pieces differently on the board to win the game.

Create opportunities

One of the best leaders I ever worked for was Dave. He was kind to me when I was young in my career. He took time to sit with me and hear my concerns.

“Dave, I’d really like to manage people. Can I have a shot?”

“Chip, I see you’re enthusiastic and I appreciate how you handle our clients. Let me see what we have.”

I had never managed people officially, so I knew I was asking for him to trust me and take a risk. What he ended up bringing to me was a project.

“Chip, I have a project for you. I want you to create a program for the company that will reward the right behaviors on the production floor and also give us visibility to the opportunities we have to grow. You have my permission to recruit from any department a team of 5-10 people that will help you figure it out. Let me know what you need, and I’ll make sure you have it.”

His support – that was all I really needed. Was the program a success? Yes, at least for a while, but what Dave really wanted wasn’t a new program the company had to manage. He wanted me to show him how I would lead. So I did, and he rewarded my leadership on the project with my first role managing people.

Do you create opportunities for your people like Dave did for me? When you do, you’re creating a pact, an agreement that there are experiences and skills you want them to demonstrate for you in the workplace. When they can demonstrate those for you, you’re agreeing to give them a shot at what they want.

So why do you hold your people back with vague references to their lack of experience or their not being “ready”? You do it because you never learned that true leadership is given away not hoarded. You do it because you’re scared of trying to replace them in their current role. You do it because you’re only focusing on yourself and not on your employee’s best interests.

Take time to create a plan with your employee. Craft it with the end in mind, their next position (or 2). Ensure the plan outlines every measure she should take in order to fulfill the requirements you’re looking for in the job. Include milestones, goals and timelines. Have regular check-ins with her to see how she’s progressing in the plan, and provide feedback for her where she could improve. She’s ok with being challenged, but your goal is not to find all the stuff she’s doing wrong. Your goal is to mine for gold. Dig out the good stuff and steer her where she needs to go.

To truly lead others you need to develop them into better versions of themselves not carbon copies of you. After all, there’s only one you and that’s all the world can handle.


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