All too often, companies look outside of their ranks for new leadership. This strategy makes sense if you’re in the midst of a major shift in product strategy or a general company turnaround. If you need to fill a management position that is not slotted for significant change, why not promote from within?
One reason you might hesitate is because promoting from within doesn’t always work. Usually, failure can be linked to leaders who have failed to develop the talent in their ranks. Bernard Banks, a clinical professor of management and associate dean for leadership development at the Kellogg School, recommends the best strategies for managing the talent you have at your company with the goal of ensuring that these team members are ready to move up when needed.
In a philosophy he calls “intentional leadership,” Banks encourages senior managers to groom leaders, starting when they first join the company. Today, most companies simply promote the individual who has been doing the best job in a department when a management role opens up. The star employee is then left to figure out for himself how to shift into management mode with little or no training.
The way Banks sees it, every employee has leadership potential. A good manager will ask each player on her team to step into different roles in an informal, but regular, basis. When a co-worker goes on vacation or is out sick for a day, ask someone else, especially someone with lesser experience, to cover critical tasks. Making this assignment will definitely slow you down for the day as you engage in a bit of on-the-job training. However, if you don’t take this step, an employee might decide there is no path to a bigger job for her in the organization and leave.
As a manager, you also know talent development does not always take place in a classroom. With his background in the Armed Forces, Banks’ perspective on leadership training relates to battlefield experiences. Nothing develops critical thinking skills more quickly than when an opponent with a weapon is gaining on you. Your team members likely won’t be operating in that type of culture, but you can encourage them to develop thinking skills when under pressure by assigning them tasks that are out of their ordinary responsibilities – such as handling difficult customer service calls that require an immediate response.
Show your team members that you’re serious about developing them for the future, and you’ll win their loyalty and their respect. As they move through the ranks, your organization will experience stability instead of turmoil.