How to Develop High-Potential Employees into Great Leaders

business leaders

Developing leaders is one of the toughest things for companies to get right. But it’s also one of the most important. Why? Building a leadership pipeline turns your company into a self-improving machine. 

As employees realize they can grow within the business, they will strive to outperform themselves every day. This promotes problem-solving, creativity, innovative ideas, and employee engagement.  

Additionally, career development is one of Millennials’ top workplace priorities. This means it’s one of the most attractive benefits your business can offer. 

Leaders should leverage this incentive as much as possible. This way, your staff will be motivated to go above and beyond what is expected of them. 

That’s why leadership training is a $370 Billion global industry. In North America alone, companies spend $160 Billion annually to develop talent. 

But it’s not as easy as telling employees that you promote internally from time to time. You need to craft a company culture where leadership development is front and center. And doing so requires thoughtful planning. 

In this article, we outline some essential steps to turn high-potential employees into great business leaders.

Create a company culture of continuous learning

Leadership pipelines and learning cultures go hand-in-hand. When you create a strong culture of learning in your business, you provide tools and incentives for talent development. This lays an ideal foundation for your leadership development program. 

In a continuous learning culture, staff of all levels constantly enhance their skills. Additionally, critical thinking and self-improvement are encouraged. As a result, employee performance improves on a rolling basis. And, as your employees grow, so does your business! 

Meanwhile, your employees have access to resources to prepare them for leadership roles. 

At RTG Solutions Group, we encourage and help businesses to establish cultures of continuous learning. Doing so can unlock new levels of growth and success for leaders and their organizations. To learn more about the benefits of constant learning, check out our article What’s All the Buzz About a Continuous Learning Culture?

Treat all employees well

Leader with team

To put it simply, if you don’t treat all employees with respect, they won’t stick around to become leaders. This is true no matter how good your training program is. 

Some organizations fear that, once they train future leaders, they will pack up their skills and take them to another business. This is a legitimate concern. However, a proven way to prevent brain drain in your company is to treat all employees well.  

This idea speaks to our core values at RTG Solutions Group, where we believe that People, Process, and Communication are the key ingredients to success in all areas of business. And leadership development is no exception!

Why focus on People, Process, and Communication for leadership development?

PEOPLE: Invest in your people by treating them well and providing cutting-edge development tools. This will ensure that top talent becomes even stronger and does not leave your business. 

PROCESS: Establish efficient, results-driven training processes. This provides your leadership development program with structure and longevity. As a result, your company will consistently produce capable leaders.

COMMUNICATION: Communicate methodologies, expectations, and incentives to all employees. Transparency and communication create an even playing field for all employees to begin their leadership development journey.

Identify high-potential from top-performers

To develop good leaders, you need to know how to pick them. Not everybody is cut out for leadership, no matter how good they are at their job. This is why you have to know how to identify high-potential employees from top-performers. 

What’s the difference? Top-performers are exceptionally talented employees. They are great at their job and consistently produce results. High-potential employees, on the other hand, excel in their job duties AND have the capacity to become great leaders. 

The problem many companies make is they assume top-performers will be good leaders. Sure, top-performing employees can make great leaders. But this is not always the case. 

Have you ever had a supervisor with such abysmal leadership skills, you couldn’t figure out how they got that position? It’s likely that they were a top-performer.

To avoid perpetuating that problem in your own business, separate your high-potential employees from your top-performers. This will show you who is and is not cut out for leadership. Here are some signs to tell them apart:

High-potential employees:

  • Work well with others
  • Gravitate towards opportunities to be a leader
  • Have strong communication abilities 
  • Possess natural people skills
  • Excel in duties of their job 
  • Go above and beyond what is expected of them 
  • Make meaningful contributions in meetings
  • Propose actionable process improvements 
  • Have creative problem-solving skills 

Top-performing employees (without leadership potential):

  • Poor communication abilities 
  • Listen but do not actively contribute to meetings
  • Excel in duties of their job but may not necessarily go beyond what is expected
  • Prefer to work alone 
  • Struggle to resolve conflict with others 
  • View constructive criticism as attacks
  • Decline opportunities to lead projects

Create a custom leadership training program

business leader with team

High-potential employees cannot maximize their potential without proper training. To realize that potential, they need an innovative and effective leadership training program. This is crucial. 

If you have the right people for the job but lack the training infrastructure to support their natural abilities, you waste their leadership potential. Some organizations make the assumption that natural leaders will transition seamlessly into leadership duties. After all, if they are “natural” leaders, they don’t need training, right?

Not quite. Intuitive people with natural leadership potential will always seek out learning opportunities. They know they have potential, and they will look for work environments where that potential can be maximized. 

If they don’t see other leaders receiving valuable training from your organization, they will go somewhere else. Sure, they might stick around long enough to climb to a leadership role. However, they will probably abandon that position once they realize they have not been equipped to excel. 

Developing a custom leadership training program that is visible to all employees will prevent this. In fact, in companies with the strongest learning and development cultures, training itself is touted as a benefit.

Be sure to include one-on-one mentorship and leadership levels in your training program. One-on-one mentorship allows best-practices to be passed down by the experts. And a system of leadership levels allows mentorship to occur at every rung of the leadership ladder–from CEO to intern. 

Some leaders are certainly born, but the best leaders are made! Empower your high-potential leaders with training that does them justice.

If you want to learn more about how to roll-out a new training program, check out one of our recent articles!

Don’t wait until you have vacancies to train

Another common mistake leaders make is waiting until they have vacancies to train. Once you identify your high-potentials, don’t just sit around waiting for a leadership vacancy to open up! Provide leadership development opportunities from the get-go.

There are several reasons why this is good practice. First, it allows you to vet future leadership candidates. You might think someone is cut out to lead, but you could be wrong. Early development efforts will help you gauge employees’ leadership potential more accurately. 

The second reason goes back to a point made in the previous section. If high-potential employees do not sense that they have development opportunities at their disposal, you might lose them. 

Even if you have every intention of providing world-class training once they are in a leadership position, they have no way of knowing that. Implementing leadership training from Day 1 shows employees that you have the intention, tools, and capacity to invest in them. 

Third, it will make the transition easier. Suppose someone in your leadership team gives you a two-weeks notice that they accepted a new position. That’s not a lot of time to prepare their replacement. Well, not if you’re starting from scratch. 

But if you’ve already invested months of leadership training into their replacement, you will have a head-start to navigate the leadership change. This will make the transition much smoother, both for the business and your newly-promoted leader. 

CONCLUSION

Leadership development is invaluable. It boosts employee engagement, fuels innovation, and attracts top talent. However, it’s difficult to master. Unlike other types of training – say, compliance training – developing leaders is a dynamic, multi-level process. 

Organizations that churn out one great leader after another do not get there by accident. It requires thoughtful and intentional processes. 

These five steps will help you develop your high-potential employees into future leaders for your business. 

Do you want to create a leadership development plan that delivers a return on investment? Contact us today to speak with our learning and development experts! 

“A vision cannot be realized without the ability to execute.”

Khris K. Bhattan
PresidentPresident, RTG Solutions Group
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