Why it’s important to start investing in your future leaders today

Regardless whether you are a manufacturer, distributor, consultancy or technology firm, your staying power and ongoing success will ultimately be determined by one single factor: your future leaders. Most business owners recognize the critical importance of leadership, yet many organizations still fail to develop the leaders they will need to face tomorrow’s challenges. What should businesses be doing now to groom tomorrow’s leaders?

Smart Business spoke with Michael Arklind, manager of learning and development at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, about strategies for leadership development that will bring value to any organization.

When should an organization start identifying and grooming future leaders?

It’s never too early to find and develop future leaders. Most companies don’t think about leadership until there is a pressing need. Unfortunately, by that point, it is often too late.

Start looking for leadership qualities during recruiting seasons and continue the process as soon as new professionals enter the organization. Leadership skills are just as critical to a company’s success as technical skills, so have a plan to identify and develop your professionals’ abilities in these areas.

How does the leadership development process begin?

Once you have identified a potential leader, you need to have a conversation with that individual and find out what he or she wants. There is no use trying to develop leadership skills in someone who has no desire to grow into a leadership role.

Next, you should work to build consensus among key management that you’ve found the right person. From there, the process becomes much more particular to the people with whom you are dealing. Determine what motivates each individual. Explore each person’s personal and professional goals and get each to take ownership of his or her own development.

What is the single most important skill that a future leader must develop?

Without a doubt, it’s emotional intelligence. Leaders must know how to identify and manage their feelings. There is an extremely high correlation between emotional intelligence and top decision-makers. It’s also important to be able to recognize the emotions of others and to understand how these emotions can affect a situation.

When teaching emotional intelligence, start by teaching concepts, building an awareness of how emotion can cloud and affect decisions and actions. Also try to use real-world situations as teaching tools. Don’t tell anyone how they should have acted. Instead, develop critical thinking skills by reinforcing concepts and working with them individually until they find solutions on their own.

How can coaching and mentoring help leaders develop?  

Coaches and mentors are both important, but they play very different roles. Use coaches to help individuals become critical thinkers and problem solvers. Coaches also can help individuals develop specific skills that they will need to advance in their career.

Mentoring is a long-term process and is intended to support a professional’s overall development rather than building specific job skills. Mentors are critical to teaching emotional intelligence. They need to be advocates, so they usually aren’t direct supervisors. Good mentors build trust and create a connection with the individual with whom they are working that allows a deep level of openness and honesty, which is critical to an individual’s professional development.

To successfully develop future leaders, you must make leadership an organizational priority. Find potential leaders early, engage them in the process and proactively work to develop critical leadership skills. The future of your organization depends on it.

Michael Arklind is manager of learning and development at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. Reach him at (925) 271-8700 or [email protected].

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