Career Development 101: Nurturing the Future Leaders of Tomorrow

While some people are born with natural confidence, most great leaders come to rise with the help of experience, training, and support. But what happens when those poised to step into leadership roles lack the critical skills needed to lead?

Bad management is one of the top contributors to low employee engagement, and ultimately, poor retention. As has been said, people join companies, but they leave managers. The reality is many successful employees will become people managers at some point during their careers, despite the fact that they don’t have the right experience or skills when they step into the role. In fact, a recent Gallup survey suggests only one in ten employees have what it takes to be a good people manager.

What’s more, employees will likely imitate, for better or worse, the management style they’ve seen firsthand. Without the opportunity to learn best practices in management or general leadership skills, companies are perpetuating a vicious cycle of bad leaders that can ultimately lead to bigger problems across the company.

Weave training and career development opportunities into the fabric of your company culture.

As the nature of work continues to change and the war for talent wages on, we must invest in foundational leadership development at every level in the organization: from the green graduates fresh out of college to experienced and tenured senior managers.

Foster a Culture of Learning

What can organizations do to help employees develop the critical skills needed to lead? One way is by weaving training and career development opportunities into the fabric of your company culture. By providing a structured program early in their careers, you ensure that employees get an early start on developing their leadership skills. Rotational programs, for example, give employees the opportunity to experience different roles within the company and get a better understanding of what a career in that area would require.

More established leadership tracks, like 3M’s four-level experiential development program, target employees at different levels in their careers, providing experiences that speak to their skill level and future potential. 3M’s programs range in length from three months to 12 months and include a discovery process for the leaders, spot coaching, 360 feedback, and a capstone project to be completed at the end to show learning impact and how to apply the skills in their day-to-day jobs.

Harness Employee Data for Career Development

With technology and HR systems innovating at a galloping pace, we are also gaining more insight into individual performance. By harnessing employee data, we can identify top performers early on, understand what makes them successful, and use that knowledge to improve everything from the personalized career paths to recruiting practices.

The smarter our systems become, the more time managers will have to focus on employee development. According to a recent survey, managers at all levels spend more than half their time on administrative coordination and control tasks. As developments in artificial intelligence begin to automate many of these tasks, managers will have more bandwidth to spend on employee development.

Some companies are investing in one-on-one training programs to help employees develop “soft skills” like peer-to-peer communication, public speaking, negotiation, and expectation setting. Aaron Feinberg, an executive coach and leadership trainer, works with companies of varying sizes and industries to help their employees develop greater emotional intelligence—skills he says are the backbone of a great leader.

“As a manager and a leader, one of your most important responsibilities is to motivate your employees. You can’t do that if you haven’t built trust and rapport with them using your emotional intelligence skills–getting outside of yourself and thinking about them,” says Feinberg. “Through active listening, open questions, and encouraging self-awareness, you can find out their internal motivations, and help them live their values.”

Identifying personal leadership style and individual strengths will help employees become better leaders and assist those they work with or manage become better leaders themselves. Through focused training programs, whether in a group or one-on-one setting, and better insights with the help of technology, we can help all managers and employees reach their full potential.