How to Develop Leaders

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Every organization needs leaders. The problem is that leaders are hard to find. However, if you work to develop the people already in your organization, you can grow your people into dynamic, enthusiastic leaders. Leadership, just like any other skill, has to be learned. If you want more leaders in your organization, take the time to teach the skills of leadership. By multiplying leaders you multiply your effort and empower your organization to grow and thrive.

Observe your people. Who in your organization might be a potential leader? Look for people who have a vision for how to make things better. People who are already leading in other ways are potential leaders. Someone whose efforts improve the output of the entire team may be a leader. It will take time and practice to hone your ability to spot potential leaders, but you can't develop them if you can't see them.

Communicate with your potential leader. This is not the time to ask her to be a leader, but to get to know her. What does she value? What hobbies interest her? Every leader is unique, and his ability to lead well stems from that uniqueness. Ask questions about previous leadership opportunities that she might have had. For example: "Have you ever been in charge of a project?" Listen to the response, but don't offer any advice at this time.

Consider how to encourage your potential leader. Leaders need change, followers and values (reference 2). Spend some time thinking about your potential leader, perhaps she needs help expressing values, or maybe she needs to gather some followers or to be allowed to institute some change. From your conversation with your potential leader, one of these areas should stand out as the best place to start. Note: once you have helped her to work on one of the areas, you can come back to emphasize another one.

Empower your potential leader. If she needs to institute change, then look for the next opportunity for change in your organization. Normally you would make a decision and move on. Instead, offer the decision and the responsibility to your potential leader. Be available for coaching and advice if necessary, but it is important that he has the full responsibility and autonomy to do the work. After the process is over, spend some time discussing the outcome, at this point it's helpful to ask, "Was there anything that you would have done differently?"

If your potential leader needs to develop followers, put him in charge of a group working on a project. If he needs to define his values, give him a job that is in a gray area and will require him to take a stand based on values. The options for development are only limited by your imagination and your organizational structure.

Excuse yourself from direct oversight as soon as possible. It may be more comfortable to keep close tabs on your budding leaders, but the sooner you give them autonomy, the sooner they will develop as a leader. They may make mistakes at first, but every leader does. Allow for mistakes as learning opportunities. The more space you give your leader and the sooner you give her that space, the greater her development will be.


Continue to be available to your leaders to offer advice throughout their development. Never stop the learning process.

It is scary to let a new leader loose on a project, but it really is the best way for them to develop.