A wise leader and mentor once pointed out that we can do the work of ten people, but when we leave, the organization will be faced with the cost of hiring ten people to replace us. Alternatively, if we develop the skills and talents of ten people, we leave in place ten people who can do what needs to be done as well or better than we have. This is real leadership.
So what are the most important strategies for nurturing the talent of those around us and on our team? Let’s consider five actions at the top of most talent developers’ lists.
First—and probably most important—is to believe that those with whom we are working have talent. It may seem obvious, but simply believing that people have talent and potential changes how we interact with them. We are more likely to convey confidence and positive expectations. Our language shifts toward opportunity and success. When we see developable talent, we communicate it in dozens of ways. Unfortunately, the opposite also is true.
Second, developing talent requires providing opportunities. We need to be ready to let go of some tasks and activities we are good at and may even enjoy and let others gain experience and skills through engaging in them. At first, this process will take more of our time, not less. This step can be difficult for some of us, because we think we are the only ones who can do it right or because we need to be the center of attention. This process also likely will involve some mistakes and missteps. We need to provide enough room for small failures to occur, while remaining close enough the help them “pick up the pieces” and learn from the experience. Developing talent requires that we delegate and still provide support that leads to growth.
Third, we need to listen, teach, and coach. Our efforts to delegate responsibilities and allow team members to grow must be accompanied by our encouragement, insights, and reflective questions. Like any good teacher and coach, we provide only as much support as needed and step in only when there is no other choice.
Fourth, we need to support opportunities for team members to learn from more than just us. Find ways for team members to see other leadership models and approaches. It may be that we recommend them to serve on committees and task forces elsewhere in the organization and region. It might be encouragement to take a course or attend seminars to see other perspectives and find their own style and comfort with leading. Regardless, we need to support exposure to multiple models, not just us.
Fifth, we need to avoid placing limits on how much growth is possible or permitted. Some of those around us will surprise us once they begin to develop. In fact, in some areas they will be better than we are. We need to place our egos “in our pockets” and allow others to shine and take pride in what they accomplish. After all, when they do, they are actually extending our influence; often beyond what we can imagine.