If you think leadership is based on position, you are artificially limiting your growth potential. Leadership is not about given authority; it’s about accepted responsibility. Leadership can come from every position on your team, and developing that leadership should be a focus of your management style.
Some new hires don’t realize this is even a consideration. They come out of college or otherwise start at a company with dreams of having a Title behind their name. That is their goal because they want the leadership authority that comes with that title. You need to help them understand early and remember often that leadership begins with the person, not the position.
This begins with setting expectations. Entry-level workers should not just learn their job and do their job. They need to understand why that job exists and how it contributes to the overall success of the team, the group, the department, and the company. They are not “doing a job,” they are taking ownership of a responsibility. That’s a leader mindset, and it’s a simple transition in thinking that begins the transition from worker to leader.
Once your entry-level person makes the transition in mindset and activity from doing to owning that job, begin to show them how to step outside that position to expand their opportunity to lead. This, more than any other step, will help you determine which people are workers and which are leaders. Some workers, technician-minded folks, will be extremely uncomfortable and unwilling to step outside their expected work. Others will thrive given the opportunity. Find those who would thrive and give them the opportunity to lead at a level where their mistakes won’t have huge consequences. It’s much better for a mid-level leader to learn from their mistakes than to deal with them at an executive level.
Set up an environment that encourages suggestions and ideas. Not complaints, mind you. Don’t encourage people to come to you with critiques unless they also have an idea on how to make improvements. Listen to their ideas and you will learn if that person is a “me” player trying to impress or a “team” player trying to make the business better. You need both, but this is a way to know which is which. Producers might do great things for the company while trying to do great things for themselves, but leaders will do great things for themselves while trying to get a win for the team.
What about it, manager? Do you have some people who need to step up as leaders? How can you help them make that transition?
David Milberg is an experienced credit analyst in NYC.