Six strategies to develop a strong leader

Bill McMurray | Managing Director | Qualtrics

Your organisation’s leadership is a strong predictor of how successful the business will be. Leadership styles permeate the entire organisation, trickling down from the top, affecting employee morale, performance, and engagement.

Getting the right leaders in place is therefore essential. The larger the organisation, the more difficult it can be to identify and nurture people with the right skills in your franchise. When filling leadership positions, businesses tend to either promote from within or hire new talent. Both approaches are valid, and both approaches come with challenges.

Promoting a high-achieving employee with a solid understanding of the business into leadership positions can be less risky and less expensive than recruiting external candidates to take the position. This approach offers the advantage that the potential new leader is already a known quantity and clearly fits into the existing company culture.

However, natural-born leaders are rare and too many executives are promoted on the strength of their personal performance without consideration for their ability to lead people or to “think one-level-up”. Promoting someone before they are ready to deal with the pressures and challenges that come with leadership can threaten the business’s reputation and overall performance. Organisations that have identified potential leadership candidates need to put in place strategies to develop them into strong leaders to ensure the business has the best management team possible.

High-potential leadership candidates are often problem solvers who enjoy being challenged and taking ownership of projects and issues. They often live the values of the organisation, and have a desire to progress themselves through their own hard work and dedication to their jobs. It is important that organisations nurture these candidates to help them develop to their full potential.

There are six key strategies for developing potential leaders:

1 Set challenges

Giving a challenging project or problem to someone with leadership potential is an ideal way to start the ball rolling for his or her development. It gives a potential leader the space to understand how to approach challenges, who can help, how to get assistance, and that they should  consider different strategies before acting.

How the candidate solves the problem or overcomes the challenge can tell you what you need to know about their current management competence and areas for further learning. While they might not approach the challenge in an ideal way, this is not necessarily the point of the exercise. What is important is that you give them room to make mistakes and learn from them because this can boost their confidence and ability.

2 Rotate roles

Rotating potential leaders into a different department or job function can help to give them a more well-rounded understanding of the franchise business. Rotating jobs means candidates gain hands-on experience to understand how different parts of the business work and broader experience helps them better understand how they can support all areas of the business.

This also gives you an opportunity to see how they interact with people that aren’t part of their usual team.

3 Facilitate mentorship and coaching

Mentors can share their personal experience, skills, knowledge, provide a listening ear, suggestions, and resources with the business’s potential leaders. Mentorships provide a nurturing, supportive, and effective way to develop leaders. Leaders are human and will make mistakes. Mentors can help them understand how to learn from and avoid repeating those mistakes.

Coaches observe and assess potential leaders’ fundamental leadership skills, and create plans to help them improve. They can design exercises and training tailored to the individual candidate’s needs to help them better direct and delegate, and inspire and motivate people to listen, believe, and act.

4 Provide education opportunities

While learning on-the-job is the most effective way to develop leadership skills, franchisors may want to consider professional development and training, such as funding higher education, to give high-potential candidates a strong foundation in leadership theory and practice.

Giving candidates access to different learning platforms, like webinars, sabbaticals, industry events, and professional associations, can help the business determine whether the candidate is committed to ongoing learning, which is a critical leadership characteristic.

5 Encourage self-evaluation

Organisations should encourage leaders to continuously evaluate their performance. Candidates that are trained to evaluate their decisions, including what worked and what didn’t, will have a clearer picture of what they need to improve to become a strong leader. Leaders that understand their strengths and weaknesses can map out strategies to improve and grow. It is also important that they receive encouragement from their colleagues to remain committed to improving their performance. The mark of a successful leader isn’t necessarily that they never make mistakes. What makes a great leader is how well they deal with failure and plan to improve going forward. Therefore creating a workplace environment that promotes open, fair, and supportive dialogue between candidates, their peers, and management can help boost morale and help the team to grow stronger around the common goal of improving.

6 Listen and ask questions

It is important that businesses listen to leadership candidates’ thoughts, concerns, and feedback as it can help guide how the business chooses to develop individual leaders. For example, if a candidate expresses that they are uncomfortable rallying teams to focus their efforts around a business goal or objective, the business might consider investing in training that could help strengthen their communication skills. Asking potential leaders questions about their progress can also help them to think more strategically or outside their comfort level.

An essential part of developing leaders is to offer them the opportunity to participate in a 360- degree employee feedback program. These 360 programs provide the individual with feedback on their strengths and weaknesses from a variety of sources – managers, peers, direct reports, and external evaluators. Organisations should run a full function, sophisticated platform to implement 360 programs quickly and to gain feedback in real-time.

Bill McMurray is Managing Director (Asia Pacific & Japan) at Qualtrics, who provide the rapidly growing enterprise customer and employee, insights and engagement technology platform. Bill is an international technology executive with over 30 years of experience in the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) industry.

Qualtrics provides the balance of fullfunction capability, with a scalable and easy-to-use VoC platform. This enables an organisation to have a flexible and agile program where the company can start small, implement that, learn and iterate and then grow the program out in terms of capabilities/customer touchpoints and scale. Organisations can then take action and respond to customers in real-time, to make a negative or OK experience, an exceptional experience and ultimately lifelong customers.

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