How much time does it take to grow a new leader?

Photo of businessman's hands nurturing a seedlingA follower asked a great question on an “Ask Me Anything (about leadership)” post on my Facebook business page.

“How do you balance the time devoted to leadership development versus running the business/department?”

There’s a sneaky assumption embedded in the question that training and development is separate from running the department.

But leadership development is part of running the business, not separate.

And leadership development belongs to both the person being developed and the person mentoring, coaching, or teaching.

The leadership trainee needs to be aware that every business interaction is an opportunity to “think like a leader” – to think about how they’d want the situation to play out if they were 100% responsible for the outcome.

There’s a difference between the employee who’s responsible for a particular task, and the leader who’s accountable for that task’s results. When the fledgling leader can make that shift – can see how the individual daily tasks fit into a bigger picture, and can understand how that impacts the business’s success (or failure) – then they’re learning to think like a leader.

Assuming you’re interacting with the trainee on a regular basis as part of your normal activities, you can ask questions that lead them into the leadership mindset. For instance…

How aware is this person of the impact of a particular task on the business?

Do they know all the ways the business makes money? Most won’t.

What would they change about how things are done, or where things are placed?

One of my clients in my Leadership program is working to rearrange the office’s physical space to be more efficient. Another has a new employee whose previous sales experience is helping improve results. Both these leaders are taking initiative to enhance the business they work for.

Sometimes new leaders will be reluctant to say that any changes are needed, either because they’re entrenched in “this is how it’s always been,” or because they don’t want to be seen as finding fault. They need to be encouraged to speak up; if necessary, you can ask them to come up with at least three things they’d change or do differently.

The key point here is that while you can always set time aside to specifically focus on training, overall it should be less of a “this is training time / this is work time” balance, and more of an integration throughout the day.

Training by itself is conceptual. Leadership is situational. No one can become a leader by sitting in a classroom or in one-on-one “training time.”