By Melissa Mangano
Think of the last time that you stepped up as a leader in your everyday life.
It is unlikely that there were explicit directives saying you should or should not act in such a way for this given circumstance; rather, it was probably a personal initiative that prompted you to step up when the situation called for it. There are often no labels dictating whether or not we take on leadership roles in our daily lives, so why do we let these labels decide whether we can or cannot step up as leaders in our business environments?
Leadership is more than a title. When asked what it means to be a good leader, Bill Gates spoke powerfully: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others” (Inc.com, 2020). This ability to empower is not limited to a specific position or managerial role; we all have the ability to lead from every seat. Now, more than ever, executives should not be the only ones leading within organizations. Better yet, executives are not the only ones who have the responsibility to lead.
The success of an organization lies in the strength of its leaders. If we want to build the strongest organization, we must build leaders organization-wide.
Through our years of experiential research and working with our clients, we have found three targeted behaviors that your company can engage in right now to begin building an organization of leaders.
Lead by Example
While leadership capabilities should not be limited to strictly “leadership roles,” these positions of power are a great place to begin building.
With the vast amount of change occurring in our business worlds, none of us know what will definitively come next. Such an environment presents a unique opportunity for traditional leaders to be more vulnerable, simultaneously opening up space for all employees to do the same.
In navigating recent workplace transitions, we have witnessed business leaders become more accessible in many new ways. One business professional we spoke with recently shared that – as we become increasingly dependent on video technology – her company has encouraged employees of all levels to change professional Zoom icons to, “something that cheers you up during this time.” This small act indirectly facilitated colloquial dialogue between senior leaders and employees who may have normally been too intimidated to initiate these conversations with their superiors in the past. As leaders begin to become more humanized and are willing to share their vulnerabilities, employees at all levels are subconsciously granted permission to become leaders in their own ways.
This is a pivotal opportunity for executive teams to lead the initiative for fostering organization-wide leadership development. Through conveying what it means to be a leader, organizations can build collective social capital and promote an organization-wide growth mindset. As our business environments continue to change, there will be continuous new opportunities for untapped strengths to be unveiled. The first step is giving employees permission to discover them.
Proliferate Leadership by Providing Opportunity
Once permission is granted, the best way to develop leadership capabilities across an organization is by providing people with opportunities to lead.
These opportunities can come in a variety of ways, and weekly meetings are a great place to start. While meetings are often led by managers or members of the executive team, presenting the opportunity for employees of lower levels to lead a meeting is one way to grant employees permission to discover leadership capabilities within themselves. Empower employees with this voice and let them feel heard, and ultimately new questions will be facilitated, new perspectives will be shared, and new leadership potential will be unveiled.
Having less experienced employees lead a meeting will not always be a viable option. If this is the case, it is important executives leading the meetings ensure they are taking the time to open up the floor for all participants to speak. Encouraging employees of all levels to volunteer ideas and share thoughts is a critical way to show that meetings are more than just a place for listening – they are a place for contribution and collaboration. Every interaction can become a platform for exercising growth.
Developing leadership capabilities across an entire organization will require hands-on experience. Methods such as job rotations and action learnings are great ways to expose employees to leadership characteristics that are successful in individual job functions. One practice we have seen to be highly effective is the construction of a Leadership Task Force, in which senior managers from different business units congregate weekly to review company strategies. By encouraging managers to invite employees of all levels into these meetings, organizations end up building collective leadership capabilities and empowering their employees.
Facilitating these programs internally is a sure way to encourage all employees to take on leadership roles and build these capabilities throughout both individual and collective daily engagements.
Advocate and Encourage
One of the best ways to promote repeat-behavior is to encourage it. In other words: when employees step up and contribute their leadership skills to a situation, (1) acknowledge it, and (2) encourage it.
In Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, it was found that only 3 in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that there is someone at work who encourages their development. “Gallup data show that a lack of development and career growth is the No. 1 reason employees leave a job…personal and professional development does not occur in a vacuum; it takes thoughtful effort and attention by both managers and employees over time” (Gallup, 2017)*.
If we can build leadership capabilities within our employees, and back this development up with ongoing support, not only can we cast a wider net of leaders across our organizations, but we can simultaneously increase employee engagement and satisfaction in our workplaces.
As business environments continue to shift, we must encourage this development within our employees as they step up as leaders. By finding ways to acknowledge this publicly and applauding sought after behaviors, leaders will begin to emerge all throughout our organizations.
Set Your Business Apart Through Your Leaders
If we (1) make leadership accessible to all employees, (2) pair this accessibility with opportunity, and (3) acknowledge these pursuits with positivity and support, we can begin to develop a stronger organization for the future.
As change continues, we must come together to build each other up, unleash untapped potential, and build collective leadership capabilities that will push the productivity of our organizations forward. In doing so, we can foster increased employee satisfaction and engagement, pave the way for a robust succession plan and talent scouting, and build a natural development of internal growth and cultures of trust.
Build your leaders, build your success.
Melissa Mangano is a Consultant at nepf, LLC and focuses on helping organizations transform.