A large part of your job as a leader is to grow your replacement. No matter how fantastic a leader you are, you will eventually be replaced. You may retire, move to a different job, get fired, get promoted…but you will not be the leader of your organization forever. Someone will replace you.
I used to work for a 4-star general who spent the first two to three hours of every day growing new leaders. This effort was so important to the future success of the organization that he donated hours of his precious, limited time to ensure he identified and mentored the talented up and coming officers. The larger an organization is, like the 330,000 personnel in the Air Force, the more time the senior leaders must spend on growing new leaders. If you run a small company of 30 people, your time spent growing leaders will be greatly reduced, but its importance is not diminished.
“Growing future leaders is not magic…”
Sowing the seeds of leadership
As a leader in your organization, you know what specific qualities make good leaders in your corner of the market. After almost 30years of studying leadership, I have distilled what I think are the three most universal qualities of leadership. If you can identify an employee with these three, you have the makings of a future leader on your team.
Competency – This is the most singularly important quality in leadership. A leader must be good at what he or she does. Watch for the ones who become experts in their area of work and begin teaching those around them. This type of expertise gives a leader credibility and allows him to accomplish checks on the work being done by his team.
Decisiveness – We have a saying in the fighter pilot business, “Just make a decision…if it’s the wrong one, we can at least learn from it.” Watch for an employee who is able to gather the information available to him, analyze it, then make a decision. As General George S. Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
Approachability – If your employees feel they cannot talk to you, it will not matter if you are the best leader in the world…you will not be able to lead. Watch for the employee who is a good listener and is able to take in information from those around him when trying to make a decision. The employee who knows everything without having to ask is usually hiding insecurity, a poor quality in a leader. “The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Colin Powell
Watering the sprouting leaders
Once the budding leaders are identified, it is your responsibility as a senior leader to ensure they are given every chance to grow into future senior leaders themselves. Continue to encourage the development of the three traits discussed above as they are skills that can be continually honed. Ensure they are given the opportunity to have all the necessary experiences in the organization they will need to be successful.
If they need international experience, find them a job abroad. If they need professional certificates or qualifications, push them in that direction. If there are certain jobs they need on their way up the corporate ladder, create a strategic plan to put the right people in the right job at the right time.
Harvesting the fruits of leadership
If you have done your job well as a senior leader, when it comes time for your departure from the organization, it will be left in competent hands. Growing future leaders is not magic, but it does require disciplined planning and execution on the part of thementors. Just as the farmer enjoys the bounty of his hard work, so will the organization enjoy the new energy as they grow into the next crop of senior leaders.