The development of future leaders is one of the qualities of servant leadership according to Skip Preichard [i], but is one area where many ‘leaders’ fall short. There are many reasons for this, but I want to address the most pathological reason – fear of competition.
The fear of competition is not something that most managers will acknowledge, at least openly, although all to many of them suffer from this malady. Many people who see themselves as a leader (different from actually being a leader), think of themselves as the best and brightest in their area, and they have a hard time accepting that there very well may be many subordinate to them who are not only as capable at doing their job, they may be the future leaders of the organization if they are given the tools to advance. One of the goals of any true leader should be to cultivate the capabilities of those below them, and develop them into the next generation of leadership, even if they someday replace you!
How does a leader go about identifying and nurturing the future leaders of their organization? First is identification of the future leaders of your organization. While various organizations have training pipelines in place, a pathway for leadership development or what have you, though utilizing only these structured processes can lead to missed opportunities. There are a few traits that good leaders should possess that you can identify early on in someone’s employment that identify good candidates for mentoring; willingness to learn and take on responsibility, emotional intelligence, a level head, and empathy[ii] are easy to ascertain by simple observation and engagement.
Once you identify those who posses these traits, an informal or true mentorship can go along way in their development. Not only does having this process in place benefit the employees, it can be a win for the organization as well in the areas of employee retention, engagement, and recruitment. Lets be honest, no one likes being in a dead-end job where their opportunities for growth in the organization are limited at best. Even if someone doesn’t want to move up, as humans we have a need for the ability for growth. From the organizational perspective, having formal mentoring processes in place allows your company to retain human and intellectual capital, and foster employee loyalty over the long-term (something that todays companies struggle with in the era of frequent employment change). Along with this, mentoring engages both the mentor and the mentee in the goals and operations of the organization in a positive way. I am not saying that all mentor programs work well, unfortunately this is not the case. However there are ways to maximize the mentor experience for all involved. Bowing Corporations suggests that mentor programs need to have a specified period of time, a strong structure for matching a mentor with a mentee, ongoing evaluations of the process, among others.[iii] These are easy targets to hit, if you want to invest the minimal time it will take to set them up.
So, back to they why this may not be part of your process – fear of competition. In some cases there is a fear from managers that those below them may actually replace them before you feel it is your time to move on. Some show this by making poor hiring decisions, only bringing in those that will never be competition to them for whatever reason. Others simply ignore the potential they have in front of them, allowing great people to leave instead of fostering their growth. Those in the latter case may make the work environment marginally hostile, or at least moderately miserable for their subordinates so they choose to move on. Those leaders shut the door on their staffs’ abilities without consideration of out-of-the-box possibilities that could be explored. Having this type of management style may be personally beneficial in the short term to you, but from an organizational level it is toxic, leading to dissatisfaction and hostility.
Starting a mentoring process is easy, great leaders throughout your organization will be willing to engage employees in a mentor-mentee relationship (as this is an attribute of being a great leader). Maybe it’s not your personal interest to be involved, and that is fine. Reach out to other leaders in your organization and establish a mentor program for your staff. Don’t worry about competition as that is really out of your hands anyway. Your staff, department, and organization will only be stronger for it in the long run.
[i] Prichard, Skip., 9 Qualities of the Servant Leader, Skip Prichard Leadership Insights, Retrieved on July 28, 2013 from http://www.skipprichard.com/9-qualities-of-the-servant-leader/
[ii] HC Online., Identifying the future leaders of your company, Human Capital Management Online, Retrieved on July 28, 2013 from http://www.hcamag.com/opinion/identifying-the-future-leaders-of-your-company-128539.aspx
[iii] Sterling, Robert., 1-to-1 learning; Mentoring helps Boeing prepare leaders-and attract, retain and develop the company’s employees, Boeing Frontiers, February 2007