How To Be A Leadership Development Rock Star

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Spoiler Alert: We’re all going to die.

Not today (hopefully). But sometime. And when that time comes, many of us—many leaders—will have retired from our work.

Which begs the question: Where will the next generation of leaders come from?

As a person who speaks about, writes about, and researches leadership, I’m being asked that question more and more. As the Baby Boomers retire, they’re concerned about the future of their companies (not to mention their own legacies).

And so they ask me, “Where can we find, and how can we develop, the next generation of leaders?”

How can you develop the next generation of #leaders? #leadership #leadershipdevelopment #millennialleaders #millennialleadership #producingunderpressure Share on X

These are the right questions, in the right order. Because to be a leadership development rock star, you have to do two things (in order) with regard to the next generation of leaders:

1. Identify them. (This is the “Where can we find them?” question.)
2. Develop them. (This is the “How can we develop them?” question. Duh.)

The answer to the first question—Where can we find them?—is an easy one. They’re already working for you. You just have to know what to look for.

Here’s what not to look for: job performance.


Look, I’m not saying that being good at their job isn’t important. It shows a commitment to excellence. But it’s not a great predictor of leadership ability. (We all learned that from reading Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth, right?) It’s an important trait—but if you’re looking for tomorrow’s great leaders, here are four better predictors you should be looking for today:

1. People who gravitate toward responsibility and service.
2. People who teach and mentor others.
3. People who listen to others.
4. People who want to lift people up and make them better.

4 traits to look for in your emerging #leaders. #leadership #leadershipdevelopment #millennialleaders #millennialleadership #producingunderpressure Share on X

Note that none of these four traits have anything to do with how that person is doing his or her current job. But they have everything to do with the qualities of a great leader.

These people are probably already working for you. But you should cast a wide net. Whenever and wherever you see young people who embody these traits—at schools and universities, at places of worship, in volunteer positions—keep them on your radar and nurture their leadership.

Which brings us to the second question: How can we develop them?

You start by giving them what I call small ‘L’ leadership projects. A small ‘L’ leadership project is one with a small downside; one that won’t sink the company if it fails. This, for example, would be a bad idea:

“Casey, I noticed how well you were listening to Shawn yesterday. So now I’d like you to handle the corporate merger.”

That seems a little risky to me. But how about putting Casey in charge of the departmental United Way drive?

The point is, once you’ve identified your high-potential future leaders, you need to actively look for small ‘L’ leadership opportunities for them. We get better through practice and experience. That’s true for virtually everything: sports, music, sex…and leadership.

Give your emerging #leaders “small L” #leadership opportunities. @billstainton #leadership #leadershipdevelopment #millennialleaders #millennialleadership #producingunderpressure Share on X

When you give your leaders of tomorrow a chance to shine today, you become a leadership development rock star.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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