On oversized Post-It Notes in board rooms all over the country you'll often see something about the need to develop young leaders.
But as the old Scottish proverb goes,
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
In other words, it's going to take more than hoping and wishing that our respective organizations' young leaders develop into great leaders. Something — a lot of things, really — have to happen in order for young leaders to realize their potential.
What are some of those things, and how can we as organizations and leaders do our part to develop young leaders?
DEVELOP YOUNG LEADERS BY GIVING THEM OPPORTUNITIES TO LEAD
This would almost go without saying on account of it seeming to obvious, but I've just seen it too many times the other way around.
The temptation from an organizational perspective can be to wait until our folks are actually in a formal management role before we give them leadership roles or responsibilities.
I'd submit that that's backwards.
We need to give them opportunities to lead before they're in formal leadership roles. That gives them the opportunity to learn some of the required skills before they have all the pressures of a formal management role.
[bctt tweet="Develop young leaders by giving them opportunities to lead before they're in formal management roles. #leadership #management" username="mattmonge"]
Additionally, giving them opportunities to lead before they're in formal roles gives us opportunities to serve them in several ways. We can support them, provide them resources, encourage them when they succeed, encourage them when they don't, and have a much better understanding of who they are as a leader when the time comes for them to transition to a formal leadership role.
COACH THEM ON COACHING
One of the most important skills leaders need — regardless of their age — is the ability to coach well. That comes first from having a proper understanding of accountability — what it is and what it isn't — and second from acquiring a comfort level that comes from coaching becoming "who you are" as a leader.
Help develop young leaders by coaching them on coaching. Ever known someone who complained their manager was too good at coaching?
[bctt tweet="Help develop young leaders by coaching them on coaching. Ever known someone who complained their manager was too good at coaching? #leadership #management " username="mattmonge"]
YOUNG LEADERS NEED MENTORS
Connect young leaders with other leaders, whether they're within the same organization or industry, or not. Not every mentoring relationship will look the same, and some will be more formal while some will be more informal; but it's important that young leaders have mentors who are speaking into their lives.
DEVELOP YOUNG LEADERS SO THEY CAN DEVELOP OTHERS
You might be thinking this is the same as coaching, but stick with me. I'm actually talking more about having a general grasp of what it looks like to develop people over time, so it might even help to think more along the lines of "learning and development" here.
When young leaders begin to understand this, it will (hopefully) also begin to inform other areas of their leadership. They'll likely have a longer view of coaching, a different understanding of organizational development, and see their role as a manager much differently.
YOUNG LEADERS NEED TO LEARN TO BUILD COMMUNITY WITHIN THE ORGANIZATION
Bullying people around until you get your way isn't leadership.
Young leaders need to learn about building community throughout the organization for multiple reasons. It builds cohesiveness. An organization is more apt to rally around leaders with whom they have shared bonds.
[bctt tweet="Bullying people around until you get your way isn't leadership. #quote #leadership #management #companyculture" username="mattmonge"]
And speaking of building community...
DEVELOP YOUNG LEADERS BY HELPING THEM UNDERSTAND CULTURE
There is so much research about this by now, that it's almost cliche to cite it.
"People don't leave jobs, they leave managers..."
Well, the reason that quote is out there is because there are countless studies that bear it out. It's critical that young leaders learn what culture is and how to lead with culture in the forefront of their minds.
DEVELOP YOUNG LEADERS BY HELPING THEM UNDERSTAND HUMAN AND TEAM DYNAMICS
"Our people are our greatest asset."
These are the answers you'll likely get if you ask folks about the most important thing in their organizations.
And yet, we often spend so precious little time studying and working on those things.
In fact, I'd humbly and playfully opine some of us will spend more time right here in this moment rationalizing why we can't afford to spend as much time working on those things than we do actually working on those things.
YOUNG LEADERS GROW BY GETTING STUFF DONE
But in order to do that, they have to have the opportunity.
Put them on project teams. Let them see what it's like to lead people and projects. They need to experience both success and failure.
By all means, pair them up with more seasoned folks if you'd like; but put them in the game. Help them get the the experience you and they both want them to have.
DEVELOP YOUNG LEADERS BY GIVING THEM OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN AND GROW
We know this both anecdotally and objectively: the best leaders are the ones who are always learning and growing.
We also know this, though: if we're not intentional about carving out time and space for our young leaders to do this, it simply won't happen. It had to be a priority.
YOUNG LEADERS NEED TO LEARN SELF-AWARENESS
I've said before that self-awareness is tricky because it's the thing that everyone wishes everyone else had more of while simultaneously feeling like they themselves have more of it than most people.
If you think about it, that's not a great recipe for success.