By Bob Cooper
All successful companies need a leader that has a vision of the future, clearly defined long-term goals and a deep appreciation for people. These leaders also need the ability to bring out the best in others, have a deep-rooted commitment to ethics, and be able to withstand the challenges of leadership. When it comes to small businesses, even the best leaders often have difficulty finding others in their organization that are not only capable of becoming a successor, but that can also effectively lead others. I realize that there are countless books that have been written on developing leaders within, and the amount of information available on the web really is endless. Accordingly, I felt I could best help you by distilling this subject down to a step-by-step guide to creating leaders within your company.
Step #1. Communicate your values, mission and culture early and often - Individuals in leadership positions must realize that others will most willingly follow when they feel the leader shares their values. By having a deep commitment to ethics, by never putting money ahead of people, and by creating a culture that others want to be a part of, people will have a natural propensity to not only follow you, but emulate you as well. These are the principles of leadership that can’t be faked, or only applied when the time is right, because people will inevitably be able to tell if you aren’t genuine.
You may want to consider what we do at Elite, and have all new hires memorize your Mission Statement as soon as they come aboard. This will help them achieve a deeper relationship with your values. Then throughout their tenure with your company, make sure that you continually reinforce those values and the things that are most important to your brand. For example, since ethics are important to our culture at Elite, we provide every new employee with a copy of Ethics 101 by John Maxwell, and they are asked to share what they feel are the most important takeaways. Reinforcing your shop’s culture early and often will help ensure that you have buy-in from everyone that works with you.
Step #2. Start with the Right People - Regardless of how good your leadership skills may be, in order to create leaders within your business you need to start with people that have the right attitude, the aptitude to grow within your organization (or into the position), and the right ethics. Bear in mind that regardless of whether or not you are looking to fill a specific leadership role in management, each and every one of your employees will take on a leadership role to some degree. This is why you need to consider two different leadership paths; One for the individuals who will be assuming greater management/business leadership roles, and one for those who will less directly serve as role models for others.
Step #3. Identify the Candidates for Leadership Roles in Management Positions – In identifying the right candidates, you will need to ensure you are confident that they have the capacity to grow into the leadership position you are looking to fill. You will also need to assess their natural talent for engaging and dealing with people (including the management of others), their temperament, their ability to operate under pressure, and their ability to inspire others. These are all personality characteristics (not skills), so you will need to carefully evaluate not only the candidate’s strengths, but equally as important, any noteworthy weaknesses. In making your decisions, you may also want to consider having the candidates undergo professional assessments that are available through organizations like the Berke Group.
Step #4. Create a Path to Leadership – Once someone has been identified as a good candidate for a leadership role in management, you will need to provide them with them a list of the skills they will need to develop, a timeline for their completion, and the method you will use to judge their knowledge and ability to apply what they’ve learned. You will also need to have a clear understanding with the candidate regarding what will occur if for whatever reason either of you feel it is inappropriate to continue moving forward.
When it comes to the skills they will need, first and foremost, they will need to develop (or further develop) their people skills. One of the best ways of accomplishing this goal is by asking them to read How to Win Friend and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I would strongly encourage you to have them read one section at a time, and then provide you with an oral report. During their reporting session they should tell you what they have learned, how they will apply it to their personal life, and how they will apply it to their role in your company. Always be sure to ask for their reasoning as well. This exercise will help you better understand how your employees process information, and will give you valuable insights into how they view their roles.
This learning path should help the candidate understand the value of having goals in place, the goal setting process you use, your key performance indicators, your financial statements (when applicable), how to effectively manage their time, and how to delegate. You will find John Maxwell has written many extraordinary books on a number of these subjects, which can be valuable tools for you.
Lastly, they will need to learn how to effectively manage your single greatest asset: the people that you employ. Although there are many books that have been published on managing people, I believe that the all-time best is The One-Minute Manager series by Kenneth Blanchard.
Step #5. Application of Leadership Skills – As you are developing your business management leader, you will need to provide them with opportunities along the way to practice what they have learned. Although there are many strategies available, here is a simple one that you can use: Start by having the management leader-in-training create a simple 3-5 page mini-business plan for any part of your business. For example, it could be for driving up sales, controlling costs, or bringing in more new customers. The plan needs to include the goals (ideally relative to your KPI’s), the strategy that will be used, the opportunities and the potential risks.
Additionally, they should be put in a position where they can take on a leadership role in your team meetings, and begin handling employee issues that are relative to the role they will be filling.
While creating leaders is by no means an easy task, I hope that you find these 5 steps helpful in building a company comprised of leaders that not only embrace your shop’s mission and values, but that serve as role models for every life they touch.