Internal leadership development is something many companies fall short on. Bruce Anderson from the International Institute of Directors and Managers states that barriers to leadership building from within stem from a lack of:

  • Time to coach
  • Accountability with regard to leadership development
  • Skill to mentor up
  • Interest in developing others
  • Information and infrastructure to support leadership development

After all, when you develop someone else for leadership, you are essentially working yourself out of a job. How do companies work to overcome such a large obstacle?

Anderson points to four key strategies in overcoming these barriers so that a supportive internal infrastructure can be created:

  1. Companies start by identifying a clear selection process for finding leadership within – what evaluations, compensation practices, and feedback processes need to be implemented?
  2. Next, clear goals and steps must be developed to implement the requisite process with clear benchmarks for progress and timelines for completion
  3. Each level of management needs to be held accountable for its leadership development
  4. Those who develop others need to be acknowledged and celebrated

What Anderson does not mention, however, is the importance of choosing leader-trainers who love to see others succeed. If the attitude of the person acting as a mentor is one of suspicion and jealously toward others, there is not likely to be much desire to help the trainee. Additionally, companies need to provide leader-trainers with job security that assures them they will not be replaced by new talent at the first available opportunity. When people feel that the company values leadership development and that those who develop others will be appreciated and not punished, internal leadership development is much more likely to succeed.

Shawn Murphy takes these ideas a few steps further. In his post about identifying the hidden barriers to leadership development, he inadvertently shows the qualities good leaders do require. He adds that future leaders must be:

  • Willing to face the possibility they will not be liked for all their decisions – after all, good decisions are not always popular
  • Ready to take action when required, but they must also consider the long view so they are not making rash or inappropriate decisions that cause problems later
  • Able to manage workflow well
  • Clear on their personal values and their purpose for the team, communicating that they expect the best from their people and then providing the resources for others to deliver on expectations
  • Expert networkers who build strong bonds between others
  • Focused on building the success of others

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Of course these sound like great ideas in principle, but how can you identify potential leaders and actually develop them?

XYZ University’s Sarah Sladek and Bob LaBombard recommend:

#1) Look for leadership traits in your under-30 employees for three months:

These include: eagerness to coach and be coached, innovative thinking that inspires others to act, collaborative skill, demonstration of both team leadership and self-directed capability and ability to build strategic alliances and networks.

#2) Get feedback:

Gather 360 degree reviews on your mostly likely leaders by getting feedback from co-workers, bosses, and former co-workers. Remember to ask candidates themselves if they are interested in a leadership track in your organization.

#3) Create a plan to advance employee’s career:

Help employees identify their career goals and align them with your company’s goals, then plan to get both sides happening. It could be simple or complex, but it requires an action plan with timelines and outcomes.

#4) Mentor or shadow:

Find an executive or leader who can help bring internal talent up, have candidates shadow several senior employees and provide feedback on what they learned and how this affects their view of their career.

#5) Coach using an external person:

This can be set up via an online resource such as MentorCity or with established business coaches. External coaches help maintain confidentiality and freedom to express issues as they come up. Individual development plans can be provided to the company to show growth.

In summary, companies need to have a clear idea of where their leadership development needs to go and plan for a successful strategy and supporting infrastructure.

Barriers to leadership development should be taken into consideration, particularly the barriers within those who could be carrying out the mentoring-up process, and steps taken to mitigate those barriers put into place. Finally a practical plan to identify, verify and work with employees who you put onto a leadership track should be created with mentorship, coaching and accountability checks and balances in place. After all, an organization will always rely heavily on its people. Surely focusing on their development is key to safeguarding the organization’s future.

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Murphy, Shawn. 10 not so obvious barriers to effective leadership. Correct on August 3, 2014.

Sladek, Sarah, LaBombard, Bob (2013). America’s workforce crisis. XYZ University, Correct on August 3, 2014.