Great mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton, discoverer of calculus and the law of gravity, said "If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent". The same can be said for the task of building leaders.
Most individual contributors are capable of far greater leadership potential than they demonstrate (perhaps even more than they themselves may believe possible). The catch is, oftentimes someone else has to have the patient attention to look for it, nourish it, and expect it from them.
It is our responsibility and our privilege to cultivate and call upon leadership qualities in each member of our team. What sort of qualities should we be grooming? Problem solving beyond their scope of responsibility; holding themselves and other team members accountable; being outspoken and honest about their thoughts, opinions, and ideas; searching for solutions, not just someone to pin the blame on; taking ownership of projects or problems before they are asked to do so; moving from "why me?" to "because I can".
Can you truly say you have witnessed all your team is capable of? Ask yourself a few questions to find out:
Does the company culture encourage independent thinking?
Have you focused every day on helping your people to reach down deep and pull out the best of themselves?
Have you given them the resources to be leaders no matter what their title is?
Have you modeled behavior that tells them you believe in them?
Do they trust that you will back them even when they try and fail?
As an old Dutch proverbs says, a handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains. Building leaders is not something that happens by default - it can only happen by design.
Consider these strategies to raise the leadership quotient in your team:
Encourage and expect contrary thinking. Settle for yes's and nods and that's all you'll get. Great leaders don't want echoes, they want fresh perspective. Practice ending meetings with "So, how would you approach this differently?", "Walk me through the pros and cons as you see it", "What are some other ideas we can come up with together?"
Role play the "If it were your decision to make how would you handle it?" problem solving scenario. How would they see it if it were them at the helm and not you? Would they become more engaged if they felt you would follow their advice? Would they care more about the end result if they shared in the accountability?
Question everything that is delegated up to you. Watch that you don't fall into the common leadership temptation of feeling you aren't doing your job unless you are fixing other people's problems. This is a subtle yet powerful dynamic that allows many employees to shirk responsibility by taking advantage of their leader's need-to-be-needed. Do they really need you to get involved or does it just make it easier on them?
Build teamwork by facilitating inter-team conflict resolution. Encourage team members to conquer conflict head on with each other instead of making you the referee. Check their skill level in this area first. When you're beginning to build leaders, it is important to be involved so you can assess the current conflict management skills in your team and identify areas where they need further skill building. Provide them the necessary training through workshops or one-on-one coaching. Then, be consistent in empowering them to face it and fix it on their own.
Assign high-visibility projects to team members based on special talents. Provide equal opportunity to projects that allow employees to learn new skills, work in an area of interest, or have visibility that will help move their career along. Ask an employee who is in need of a particular learning opportunity to partner with you on a project.
Autopsy successes and failures as a team. Make this a standard practice in a special team meeting and take each member through the "My role in this was ___" exercise. Make sure you go first. Accountability is a learned behavior that starts at the top.
Conduct regular Problem Exploration Meetings to analyze, investigate, and solve issues that plague your department or organization. Teach your team to focus on CAPABILITY instead of RESPONSIBILITY. Help them think critically about problems that they may not be responsible to solve but are capable of solving. This approach builds global leadership skills that will extend far beyond their narrow job scope.
NEVER allow victim thinking. Challenge powerless statements and realign their focus from others behavior to their own influence over the situation. Check out our great tips on how to do this in our previous "Transforming the Victim Mentality" performance pointer. Email us for the full article.