3 Mistakes You’re Probably Making in Leadership Development

One of the most common frustrations business leaders share with us is the difficulty they have developing their managers into leaders. If you share this challenge, consider these questions.

What is leadership?

The answer to this basic question is at the heart of many peoples’ failure to display leadership qualities, so try this simple exercise. Pick up a pen and write down your definition of leadership. List as many qualities as you can think of. Can you articulate a concise answer? Do you just sort of know it, but find it hard to put into words? If it’s the latter, step one in turning a manager into a leader is for you to get crystal clear on what the required transformation looks like. There are many definitions, a couple of which we’ve discussed in earlier posts here and here.

Setting expectations that are clear, concise, and well understood is a hallmark of great leadership and if a manager doesn’t know what you mean when you say, “I want you to be more of a leader,” it is hard for them to meet your expectations.

When do you want the manager to display leadership?

“I had a great idea, the perfect plan, I rallied the team, and everyone was excited. But just before I started, my boss took over and put the brakes on everything.” Every manager has said this about their boss at one time or another. And if you were that boss, we understand why you stopped them. You knew that if they’d gone through with this particular plan it could have been catastrophic to the business. Why couldn’t the manager just display some leadership and foresee the obvious failure?

Probably because they had never tried to execute on a plan that big before.  You remember your first big failure, I bet. Those lessons learned are burned on your brain forever. Your managers must make some mistakes, just as you did, as they transition into a more leadership oriented role.

When the boss jumps in at the last moment and changes the plan because they see failure on the short-term horizon, they are often unwittingly making a long-term choice to squash the leadership development of that manager.

There really aren’t any pure leadership roles in small business. The President is routinely getting into management’s weeds and even occasionally the tactical work. This is not a criticism; it is as it should be. But when a manager is developing into a leadership role, it can be challenging to know when to back off and let them fail, knowing you can afford to do it.

As the boss, your own self-reflection is a critical step in developing leadership ability in your team. If you want your managers to lead, they need the space to try it out. Leadership, like management, is a practice – that means the first time out of the gate, they’re not going to be great at it. To make them great you need to give them space and a safe area to practice. Don’t keep them safe from making mistakes or even from the natural consequences of those mistakes, but keep them safe from your needless intervention.

Do you believe in them?

A great mentor believes in their mentee’s ability, and their mentee knows it. Whether in an athlete-coach relationship, a student-teacher relationship, or an employee-manager relationship, the people who are the best at developing potential also believe that the development is possible. If you don’t have confidence in your staff’s potential, they will feel it, and it will impact their ability to be decisive and trust their instincts. They may not be good leaders now, but your opinion of their potential can make or break their development.

Reflect on your definition of leadership from question one. Of each leadership quality you listed, identify which one you believe each manager already has. Remember, exceptional leaders are typically those who excel at only a couple of aspects of leadership, and the weaknesses get overpowered by the strengths to the point of being non-issues in most cases. Then, instead of focusing on their weaknesses, praise and encourage them to develop their strengths. The ratio of praise to weakness identification is most impactful at 5:1 – identify five positives for every error you correct. In this way, you can demonstrate your belief in their ability, develop the areas that will lead to the highest chance of leadership success, and ultimately improve your business beyond what you could do alone.

What we are absolutely convinced of is that if you’ve read this far, you have the power to overcome any and all of these mistakes as you empower your managers to become leaders. Practice your leadership development and you will be brilliant. After all, you developed people into managers – this is just the next step. You’ve got this!

Bellrock is a process benchmarking and change management company based in Vancouver, Canada. If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your networks.

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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