5 Ways That We Keep Employees From Becoming Leaders

Illustration by istockphoto.com

In HR (or OD, Training, etc. – pick your title) we like to believe we constantly develop our employees to become the next generation of leaders.

But many times our actions tell a very different story.

We (HR and our Leadership teams) do and say things daily that keep people from truly reaching their full potential. Self awareness of these behaviors is the key to making sure you aren’t the roadblock to creating great leaders in your organization.

5 ways you probably stop leadership development

So, here are five (5) things you probably are doing to stop leadership development in your organization:

  1. We try to mitigate 100 percent of risk. Leaders need to understand and experience risk. It’s part of the growth process to becoming a leader. If we never allow our future leaders to experience risk, they’ll fail when they finally face it, or, will be unwilling to face it, thus missing out on huge opportunities for the organization.
  2. We don’t allow our employees to fail. There are two parts to this. First, we get personal gratification by saving the day. Second, we have this false sense that “great” leaders won’t allow their employees to fail, so we step in quickly when we see things going south. We tell ourselves that we need to let our people fail, and failure is good, but we can’t stop ourselves from stepping in when failure is about to happen, or is happening.
  3. We mistake what is simply expected with what is truly great. Words are so powerful. It’s so easy to say “You’re doing great!” when in actuality, the correct phrase is probably closer to “You’re doing the exact job you’re paid to do!” That’s not great. That’s is expected. You can’t blow hot air up everyone’s butt and think they’re going to get great. They have to know what great is, and then reward with praise when great is reached.
  4. We mistake high performance for the ability to lead. Just because you’re great at “the” job, doesn’t mean you’ll be great at leading people who do “the” job. This might be the one behavior that is hardest to change. All of our lives we tell people the way to “move up” is through great performance. But it isn’t. The way to move up into leadership is to do those things that great leaders do – which does include high performance, but it also includes so much more than just being good at “the” job you’re doing.
  5. We are not honest about our own failures. Developing leaders will learn more about leadership from you if they know and understand your own failures at leadership. We all have major failures in our lives, and many of those are hard to share because they are embarrassing, they show weakness, they might still be a weakness, etc. Developing leaders will learn more from your failures about being a great leader then from any of your successes.

Developing future leaders has always been a critical part of HR in organizations, but we are quickly approaching a time in our history where your ability to develop leaders might be the most valuable skill you can provide to your organization.

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Editor’s note: Full disclosure from Tim — This was adapted from the Forbes article 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Your Children From Growing Into Leaders.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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1 Comment on “5 Ways That We Keep Employees From Becoming Leaders

  1. I like the picture: ‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered down’– a Japanese saying. At once staff are expected to mindlessly conform at the same time as be exceptional.

    The huge lie is that employees are not taught how the political information landscape wraps around the hierarchy so it can make informed decisions. Despite the fact every good CEO and senior manager uses positive politics to support their colleagues, staff and the company, the repeated lie is that all politics in organisations is bad so it should be ignored.

    Many potentially great leaders are actively discouraged from learning the single most important leadership skill that is about obtaining, controlling and ensuring good information flow. Meanwhile, delinquent and abusive managers are delighted as the field is left open for their selfish and destructive activities.

    Failure to reveal and teach positive politics is the most important reason why so many potentially great leaders never become leaders. Even Harvard fails to teach the basics of internal and organization politics. Shame on them.

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