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5 Ways to Help Your Business Develop Leaders

Business leader instructing a leadership training for her peers in the office

Developing leaders is a top priority for business owners, but it’s the most difficult thing to get right.

A recent study by GE highlighted that 68% of Gen Z employees believe they’re not being adequately prepared as leaders within their organization. This statistic is at odds with the 90% of executives that support the development of strong leaders.

What creates this discrepancy?

I’ve pondered this while at a conference with thousands of water treatment professionals. My conversations with the business owners and my time spent observing the showroom floor led me to these not-so-scientific observations:

  • Products and compliance were the number one focus
  • Sales and marketing trailed closely behind
  • Business and operations came in third
  • Leadership and development were nowhere to be found

Considering the talent cliff we’re approaching, with more than 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day and not enough young talent to replace them, why is leadership development not more prominent in action among business owners and leaders?

Developing leaders is indeed challenging. It’s a long-term investment that’s unpredictable. It’s hard because it involves people — people who might leave after you’ve invested time and resources into their development, perhaps even to a competitor.

Yet, the wisdom of Henry Ford still rings true:

“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” – Henry Ford, Founder, Ford Motor Company.

For 2024, let’s pivot the leadership narrative and make impactful leader development a priority for your business.

Here are five ways your business can help develop stronger leadership practices:

#1 – Develop leadership at every level.

Less than 5% of organizations have designed leadership programs for every organizational level. With such a low percentage of organizations offering comprehensive leadership training, it’s no surprise that a vast majority are struggling to fill these types of positions. As of 2023, 77% of organizations reported they’re experiencing a leadership gap.

I recently spoke to a group of graduating college students and noticed a concerning trend: few were prepared for leadership roles after graduation. This oversight isn’t unique to them but is a widespread issue in many organizations.

Developing leaders promptly at every level allows for faster identification of skills that need to be honed. It also allows for the cultivation of strong contributors who may not seek leadership roles but strive to excel in their current positions.

#2 – Create space for failure and exploration.

Millennials and Gen Z are less interested in traditional management roles; they value a healthy work-life balance more. They’ve seen their parents’ work evolve from a passion into a grind. As a result, maintaining happiness and expertise in a job, even as you move into leadership, is critical.

It’s essential to promote core behaviors that celebrate passion and proficiency in one’s job, despite ascending the leadership ladder. Give new leaders room to grow, develop and occasionally fail without severe repercussions.

Becoming a leader shouldn’t mean giving up well-being for busyness. Leadership can provide a balanced, fulfilling and enjoyable lifestyle.

#3 – Start training leaders, not just presenting to them.

I’ve sat through too many “trainings” that were nothing more than 35-slide PowerPoint presentations. Advertised as training sessions, they’re merely informational dumps. Training should be interactive, focusing on the ”why” and “how” — not just the “what.”

Presenting is about conveying information, ideas or concepts to an audience, primarily in a one-way communication format.

Training, on the other hand, is an interactive process designed to teach skills, knowledge or behaviors to individuals or groups, ensuring they can apply what they’ve learned in real-life or practical settings.

By turning presentations into hands-on training, you turn knowledge into tangible and actionable skills.

#4 – Create REAL ownership and accountability.

A crucial first step for any leader is to understand how they fit into the business’s overall strategic plan — and, more importantly, how they can be accountable for the people and departments they lead. Believing and understanding they’re responsible for results reached through their strategic leadership encourages them to take ownership of their work.

An impactful tool that sets the foundation for key ownership and accountability is the business model canvas template by Alexander Osterwalder .The business model canvas (BMC) is a strategic management tool used to quickly and easily define and communicate a business idea or concept. It’s a one-page document that works through the fundamental elements of a business or product, structuring an idea in a coherent way.

The BMC is the single best place to start for new or aspiring leaders to strategically view their team or department as a business within their larger organization, helping them hone in on core focus areas, strengthen collaboration and drive results.

#5 – Foster execution over strategy.

The new generation of leaders was born with the iPhone in their hand and TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram reels at their fingertips. They didn’t have to wait for gratification — they could find it immediately and without consequence.

New leaders demand action and instant gratification. They want to see the fruits of their labor today, not next quarter or at the end of the year. They’ll struggle in long, drawn-out strategic planning sessions that aren’t broken down into actionable and, more importantly, executable chunks.

Think of it this way: if your strategic plan is a book and your departments are the chapters, the new leader needs to know what they need to write on each page.

Give them the tools, resources and skills to start writing the words on the page.

As the business landscape evolves and new generations are introduced into leadership, your approach to developing leaders must also progress. It’s critical to institute fundamentals while still recognizing generational differences.

Developing skills, creating accountability and encouraging strategic execution will never go out of style. How do you get there? That’s a continually evolving question that you and your organization must constantly address.

If you’re interested in diving deeper and learning how to elevate leadership development at your organization, be sure to connect with our team. We’d be happy to share more about our business advisory services and what they can do to help address your business’s unique challenges.

This commentary is provided for general information purposes only, should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.


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