Baseball season is approaching, and soon enough many of us will be watching our favorite players smash home runs and throw mind-bending pitches. From a leadership perspective, this time of year always makes me think about bench strength, particularly as it pertains to leadership.
Baseball teams cultivate a lineup of skilled players who can step in and take over when another player is no longer available. If the team’s bench strength is solid, it can remain competitive even when key players are lost to injuries or other issues.
Is your bench full of capable individuals who can step into leadership positions when current leaders retire or accept positions elsewhere?
While bench strength is critical to sustaining business, it plays a much bigger role in growing your organization. If you don’t have enough skilled leaders on board, rapid growth—or any growth at all—may be out of reach because you need capable leaders to execute change, rally the troops and keep productivity high.
Much like the farm system in baseball, implementing a developmental leadership program will allow you to cultivate leaders from within so that you have a steady lineup of talented ready-now leaders. The leadership program that will have the greatest impact on your bench strength will possess these qualities:
1. They Focus on Opportunities for All Individuals to Become Leaders
Many organizations develop management training or leadership programs where individuals apply for consideration and leaders hand-pick promising candidates to join the program. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that approach; however, every person at every level within your organization can benefit from leadership training.
When you offer training to everyone, you create an expansive pool of leadership candidates to fill open positions. Key areas to train your future leaders in include:
- Conflict Management
When you equip individuals with critical leadership skills, they become stronger, more productive employees today, and you prepare them for leadership roles down the road.
2. They Actively Involve Current Leaders
Coaching and mentoring are critical components in an effective leadership program. Senior leaders need to be devoting time to nurturing potential leaders within the organization.
To start, establish a mentoring program, and make it part of current leaders’ responsibilities to coach employees through regular and ongoing formal and informal mentoring sessions. There are many opportunities for knowledge transfer:
- Industry knowledge and insight
- Role-specific hard skills that have been acquired over time
- Organizational operations
Perhaps most importantly, these leaders know what it takes to succeed – and which methods have led to failures. Make sure that they are sharing that knowledge with the next generation of leaders.
3. They Encourage Cross-Departmental Learning
Even in top-performing organizations, silos and turf wars hurt productivity. Tear down those walls by creating opportunities for different departments to work together. When departments are able to communicate and collaborate, they gain an understanding of how those departments work and take away ideas for their own roles. This offers that “big-picture insight” that is absolutely critical for all leaders, especially senior executives.
To introduce cross-departmental communications and expose employees to the inner workings of your organization, try:
- Job shadowing assignments
- Inter-departmental project teams
- Peer mentorships
- Team building events with non-departmental teams
This benefits you now in efficiency and productivity gains, and it also ensures that individuals have enough experience across departments to step into higher-level leadership roles.
4. They Offer Supporting and Challenging On-the-Job Training
Much of what individuals learn happens in real time, as they work through everyday problems and experience different workplace situations. To groom leaders, increasingly offer them more responsibilities and challenge them with new assignments.
As they take on these responsibilities, be sure to also offer them the training and resources necessary to be successful. When they know the current leadership team is supporting their effort, these individuals will feel more at ease when they’re leaving their comfort zone. Ultimately, as they develop their skills, they will become more confident and prepared to lead.
5. They are Relevant and Easily Applied
When you invest in more formalized training programs for new leaders, ensure everyone’s time is being well-used with relevant programs that are clearly related and applied to the workplace. Traditional leadership philosophies, concepts, and strategies are worth learning, but new managers also need hands-on experience.
While putting a new leader in charge of a major department to get that hands-on experience can feel risky, one way to put them in a real life scenario (with a solid safety net) is by choosing training with an experiential learning component. These training programs disguise common business scenarios as immersive games, then debrief participants on how the game they just completed is relevant to their lives. They provide lessons and skills that really stick and can actually be put to use the moment they are back on the job.
Remember, no matter how strong your organization is right now, it’s important to build up your bench strength so that if you should need someone to step in, they’re more than ready to do so. You cannot wait until you experience a shortage of effective leaders before you invest in a leadership program. Start now to nurture, train and educate individuals so that they are well-equipped to move into leadership positions when the need arises. If you do, you’ll benefit from a high performance culture now and well into the future.