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10 strategies for developing a strong leader

While some character traits indicate an inclination toward leadership capability, it is still a skill, and skills must be developed in order to unleash their true power.

I didn’t wake up one morning and realize that I was a leader. However, I did have the passion, drive, and vision to start my own businesses and identify people who looked to me for direction, inspiration, and opportunity. Though passion will guide you, I also learned leadership through some of the strongest strategic thinking classes in the world.

Along the way, there were those that saw leadership potential in me and took the time to develop that capability. There are numerous ways to develop a leader, which I learned firsthand:

1. Challenge

Based on a sink or swim philosophy, throwing a challenging project or impossible problem at someone with leadership potential is an ideal way to start the ball rolling toward leadership development. This type of environment gives a potential leader the space to decide how to approach the challenge, who can help, how to get that assistance, and if there needs to be alternative strategies.

While some may argue that it is better to reward than challenge, when it comes to leadership development, rewards only reinforce existing behavior while challenges help a person to grow personally and professionally. The potential leader may succeed or fail at this real-world scenario test, but either way learns from the experience about what is involved in being a leader and what worked but what needed further improvement.

2. Rotate

Like the challenge tactic, rotating a potential leader into a different department or job function can highlight their strengths while also providing them with a different perspective that benefits them now and later on. By actually working in every department or area of an organization, a potential leader can use this hands-on experience to understand how every aspect of the company works as well as what is involved in fulfilling that role.

Even though they are rotating jobs or roles outside of their knowledge or skill set, they can still ask themselves how it can be done better and incorporate this into how they would lead this particular group or function later on as a leader.

3. Mentor

A mentor is someone who has already served in the role they are now helping another learn. They have the experience, skills, and knowledge to share in a consultative role that offers direction, a listening ear, suggestions, and resources. It’s a much more nurturing and supportive way to develop a leader but just as effective in its result.

A mentor is often there to provide a soft landing should mistakes be made and talk it through. This involves handling the emotional and psychological aspects of failure and providing the learning lessons and recommendations as a helping hand to get a potential leader back up and at it again. Select someone within the organization that can help the prospective leader to see the company and its members from a different vantage point.

4. Expose

While the word expose often brings to mind something that involves risky contact like being exposed to a virus, the other context for this word involves experiencing new things that alters perceptions.

Exposing a candidate for leadership to new experiences, situations, technology, cultures, processes, information and/or people helps to add new facets that enable that person to lead all types of people and through numerous situations using different approaches.

5. Coach

Different than mentoring, a coach observes and determines what a person does well and what they could do better before creating a game plan to enhance performance. They may yell, but they will also be the first to congratulate a potential leader when they do something well.

A coach will wear a person out with constant exercises and training to make incremental improvements. This coaching tactic is important because it focuses on the fundamentals of leadership, which are so important to developing the skills to not only direct and delegate, but that are also critical to inspiring and motivating people to listen, believe, and do.

6. Educate

Provide leadership development training or fund the candidate’s return to higher education through online coursework to instill leadership theory and practice.

While on-the-job development provides the most effective way to develop leadership skills, it does not hurt to incorporate a scholarly framework to the leadership development process. Use webinars, sabbaticals, industry events, professional associations, and other learning platforms to further their knowledge, experience, and skill set.

7. Evaluate

A person can only get better through evaluating what they did and the results of those choices. An evaluation process points to areas for improvement that can become the focus of ongoing development efforts. Knowing strengths and weaknesses is a way to map out a strategy for improvements that further develop the strengths and overcome the weaknesses of a leader. Dealing with failure will determine success.

8. Support

Often, a leader is viewed as the pillar of an organization and one who has the strength of many. However, a leader is human and may make many mistakes and misfires so they need encouragement from their colleagues to soldier on. The idea is that the leader was willing to take chances and put themselves out there. Therefore, accepting this support is not a sign of weakness; if anything, it shows that a leader is brave, humble, and understanding with his team when they try something new or make mistakes.

9. Listen

 Pay close attention to what the leadership candidate has to say before providing them with information so you can shape what you tell them. Their questions may be guide how you develop that leader. Likewise, show the prospect the fine art of active listening and teach them why listening is often more important than talking when it comes to motivating others to achieve specific results.

10. Ask

Pose questions to the potential leader that can help them to think more strategically or outside their comfort level. While they may not be able to immediately answer, this gives them food for thought and ways to link what they are learning to what it means to be a leader. This also allows them to leverage their own personal leadership style to a particular issue or dilemma. Then talk through that approach with the person or team that is helping them grow into the role of leader.

To develop leader candidates, the first step is to identify those high potentials you believe will respond well to these 10 tactics. Once you identify those prime candidates, then you can leverage these tactics as part of a thoughtfully implemented leadership development program within your organization.

Want to hear more from great leaders to create a great employee experience?

Qualtrics compiled a reading list based on recommendations from HR leaders on strategies and you can download that here.

Get the ultimate HR reading list to continue your study of leadership development