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5 tips to coach and mentor future leaders


Business owners can’t just sit back and wait for new leaders to arrive, fully developed. They must actively identify employees with leadership potential and then find ways to nurture and develop that potential.

Leaving talent development to chance isn’t a good option for any organization, but it’s critically important for business owners who are thinking of retiring or who have an aging workforce.

Talent development requires a serious commitment of both time and resources. Think you don’t have time? As workers begin to retire or exit, the business loses critical knowledge, and most businesses need to fill vacancies quickly rather than hobble along during a lengthy outside search to find new leaders.

No matter how busy you are in the here and now, you’ve got to spend time each day grooming those team members who will lead your company in the future.

1. Identifying leadership

Begin the early identification of leadership talent with the realization that leadership potential is easy to spot. These are your employees who are proactive, reliable and thoughtful in their work, and somehow just take control when it’s needed.

Don’t forget to look beyond the people with degrees. Your future leaders are the employees others go to for help and who others continuously rely upon.

Say accounting clerk Madge displays initiative, accuracy and a good facility for numbers, but only has an associate’s degree. What can you do to develop her into an accounting department leader, and one day, maybe even the CFO?

2. Begin a conversation

Once you’ve spotted an employee who shows promise, your next step requires a conversation.

Start your conversation with an explanation of why you see potential in Madge to grow with the company, and to fulfill future needs. Then, ask what she sees for herself.

Some employees will jump eagerly at the chance to learn new things and push their current boundaries. Others may need help to see their own potential, or may prefer the idea of project management to people management.

You need all of this information to best know how to harness Madge’s abilities and build a development plan that benefits her and the company.

Be prepared to answer questions about what the grooming process requires. Does Madge need additional education? Will the company help her pay for that? What are new assignments and activities you foresee for her that will help her grow and contribute in new ways?

3. Develop through experiential learning 

You want to give your young leaders first-hand experience in many different roles throughout your company.

Say recent graduate Ben shows poise, intelligence and a desire to move into senior management. You’ll want to rotate Ben through different jobs to expose him to all aspects of the company, as well as push him past his comfort zone.

If Ben is a numbers guy, this may mean a stint in marketing. If he’s a super people-oriented HR manager, some time in accounting or supply chain may be the ticket.

Along the way, he’ll gain exposure to different divisions and gain new expertise and an overall understanding of the company in a real-time environment.

Stretch assignments are growth-oriented exercises. For example, if Ben does not have international experience, moving him into an overseas role will help build his confidence and leadership skills.

As you place these future leaders into these unfamiliar roles, it’s important to continue the conversation. Explain why you want Ben to take on this unfamiliar role, what you want him to learn and the personalities of the department he’s moving into.

4. Build in both coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring are powerful components that play vital, and slightly different, roles in growing employees into leaders.

Mentoring differs from coaching in that it generally occurs over a longer period of time and focuses on developing the individual holistically for the future. Coaching normally focuses on the short-term. Coaching helps an individual overcome a specific, current issue or performance challenge.  Used together, mentoring and coaching strengthen and mature future leaders.

If this seems overwhelming, remember that you don’t have to do it all yourself.

Let’s say you pair Carl, an accomplished executive, with Joshua, an aspiring professional and strong performer. Joshua learns the nuances of the business and how to be more effective at work as Carl helps him solidify accounting processes and practices.

If Joshua misses some steps in the budget process, Carl is there to guide and redirect him for optimal performance.

You check in throughout the process with encouragement, guidance and to answer any big picture questions Joshua may have. The frequency of your coaching should increase or decrease depending on how unfamiliar the new job is.

This ongoing coaching helps employees stay engaged throughout the learning process, especially if they are uncomfortable or having difficulties in unfamiliar roles. By being present, you have the opportunity to remind your future leaders that at the end of the day they need a broad view of your organization to manage well.

5. Don’t forget the soft skills

As you’re grooming your future leaders, it’s important to pay as much attention to their mental preparation as to the development of their business acumen. Experiencing successes and failures improves confidence.

Yes, Amanda should learn what goes into the board book and present at a board meeting. But she should also learn when to take action and how to bounce back from mistakes as she learns to manage bigger and bigger groups of people, budgets and projects.

This is where coaching comes into play. After a stumble, talk about what Amanda did right, then walk through what could have been done better. The soft skills of business take just as much practice as more tangible skills.

Such nurturing of young talent should be part of everyday life for leaders who want to sustain and grow their organizations.

Learn how to tap into your team’s best talents with our free e-book, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management.