Growing your own Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

To Marion Albanese, there is nothing quite like empowering employees.

In fact, helping employees recognize their talents and then giving them the support to grow has been the most rewarding aspect of being managing partner of Ernst & Young’s Tampa office.

“There are people who are natural, who you’re going to go to because they’re simply powerful,” Albanese says. “But sometimes there are other individuals who, with a little prodding and empowerment and support, can become great leaders. You need more than just that one go-to person. Build that leverage and empower across broader resources.”

The lesson of believing in someone and advancing them is one Albanese learned from one of her own mentors and one she uses as she oversees her 240 employees.

She says that finding great leaders begins with identifying their strengths and then providing opportunities for them to foster that talent.

Smart Business spoke with Albanese about how to identify and develop leaders within your organization.

Identify the strengths needed to be a leader.
I’m a big believer in playing to strengths and not focusing on weaknesses. So you identify people that are very talented and not try to necessarily fit them into a mold but allow them to grow into their own strengths.

When I look at somebody, I think about, ‘Can they build a team?’ Obvious goals are, are they a self-starter, are they goal-oriented, do they have the technical skills? But leadership, I believe, is the ability to build a team, to understand people, to motivate them, what motivates them, how to get the best out of everybody, and that’s very different depending upon the individual. It’s the ability to really sense and bring out the best in someone.

You might think that includes somebody who cares about people, is compassionate or who has empathy or can see through to somebody.

I look at how people react to them. How they treat people. You can see the ones who build the teams the best and those that sometimes just don’t know how to put others into an environment where everybody learns and grows.

Look around and watch someone’s performance. Try to get away from the noise. Watch an individual. See how they interact. See how they build teams. Then give them that shot.

Train employees to be leaders.
You lead them. You give them experiences to watch others lead, which would include giving them different types of leaders so they can see what works and what doesn’t work sometimes.

You watch them, you coach them, you give them those experiences, and then, most importantly, you give them the chance to lead. Put them into opportunities that they may not think they’re completely ready for or comfortable [with], but generally know that they are and that they might stumble a bit, but they are absolutely capable of doing it.

Empower and support employees.
It can make all the difference in the world.

You’ve got those people that are natural-born leaders, and they’re going to sometimes take power. But even then, sometimes, to rise to the next level, I think empowerment is a vital thing that happens.

It’s really basic. It’s telling somebody they can do it. It’s like teaching your child to ride a bicycle. When you let go of that bicycle and that kid takes off, they know they can do it. It’s that basic reassurance and confidence and building block. You’ll get a result that you might never have gotten without it.

Empower them, and then support them. Be extremely candid with them on how they’re doing — what they’re doing right, maybe what they could alter, giving them input, giving examples of times when I’ve faltered or stumbled or other great leaders, not only in our firm but in great organizations.

When an individual comes into the firm, we would provide them with a peer adviser. We provide them with a counselor that helps them with their performance and goal setting.

Part of what I believe [is that] solid leaders are always providing that mentoring. I would suggest our leadership here looks at mentoring and counseling as simply part of life and what we do.

It gives you somebody who has seen how an organization works, has seen how the community works, our clients work. So it gives you knowledge. It gives you different perspectives. It can help with providing you visibility. It can help with work-life balance issues.

Find new leaders.
It’s easy to go to those that are the natural-born leaders, but if you only go to those people, you’re not going to leverage your leadership. You’re not going to be able to truly grow as much as you might otherwise by thinking about other people who might not be as apparent leaders.

If I have 300 people in a location and 10 people in leadership roles, if I don’t expand that leadership group, I’m never going to get to 600 people. I’m never going to grow the business.

If we think about our world, globalization, exclusivity, think about gender, think about diversity, think about [Generation] X, [Generation] Y, baby boomers, if I always go to the same person, I’m never going to be able to develop the depth and the different types of leadership that is a requirement in today’s world.

HOW TO REACH: Ernst & Young LLP, (813) 225-4800 or www.ey.com