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Four Practices That Naturally Develop Leaders

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Today’s article is a guest post from my friend Miles Welch. Miles is the Executive Director of Leadership Initiatives at 12Stone Church—he has developed emerging leaders for years there. Enjoy this useful piece of four practices you can employ.

Today’s business and nonprofit organizations are investing more into developing their employees than ever before. According to Mike Prokopeak, an estimated $50 billion dollars per year is being spent on leadership development.

Most of this money goes toward leadership development programming.  The programs are great, but I suggest there is a better, cheaper way to develop leaders on your team. Instead of (or in addition to) leadership development programs, I suggest you build a leadership development environment. This is better because it allows everyone in your organization to grow all the time, and it is cheaper because it is not something you pay to do or send people to. It is an environment that uses your team’s current goals and challenges as development tools.

Four Practices in Your Environment

By embracing these four practices you can create an environment that naturally and consistently develops leaders on your team…or from among your students—and it’s free!

1. Assign stretch assignments. When is the last time you gave someone on your team an assignment that gave them an adrenalin rush? A “stretch assignment” is an assignment or goal that is beyond the current experience, comfort zone or capacity of the person receiving it. People grow when they are required to grow… period. Your team wants to be challenged, wants to be where the action is, wants to know if they have what it takes to do more. Of course, this requires you to take some risks, but the alternative is to keep giving all the “big projects” to the same people, who are probably already overwhelmed, and you risk leaving the next generation undeveloped.

2. Give helpful feedback. When is the last time you have intentionally called someone on your team to talk through where they are stuck and how they might break through to the next level, or to congratulate them on a job well done? Helpful feedback is timely, specific, positive and invites growth through practical next steps. People grow when they know where they are missing the mark. Your team wants feedback, both good and bad. Your team wants to hear from you what you think would help them get to the next level or where they might be held back. Of course, this requires you to take the time to reflect on each of them and to have the conversation. The alternative is to wait to have the conversation until the next review or until they are passed over, which is too late for them to do anything about it.

3. Communicate authentic belief. What would it mean for you to tell someone on your team that you believe they have great potential, or that you trust their work? Your belief is fuel for your team’s growth. Your team will tend to rise and fall to your level of communicated belief in them. (This concept is called the Pygmalion Effect.) Of course, you can’t fake belief for very long. This will require you to only bring people on your team that you actually believe in—not an easy task. We have to stop allowing the pressure to fill the team lower the bar of who gets on the team. Better to go shorthanded with a great team than have a full bench of people you do not trust to hit the ball. The alternative is to bring the wrong people on the team and then communicate fake belief in the hope that it helps the person become something they are not.

4. Reward results. How do you decide who gets your time, who gets the next promotion, who gets a raise in your organization? Your team watches what you reward. and they adjust accordingly. When you reward results, and only results, your team becomes results oriented in a way that allows them to grow. Of course, this requires you to stop rewarding other things: like who’s been around the longest or who you like the most lately or who happens to be your buddy’s daughter. This can lead to awkward moments when you elevate the younger, newer team member who is crushing results over the person you have worked with for ten years who is resting on your friendship. The alternative is to create a political environment where young winners leave, but at least you get to hang out with your unproductive friends.


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Four Practices That Naturally Develop Leaders