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Discovering opportunities to develop leadership

3 min read


When you move on to your next opportunity, who will you leave in your place? Will it be one successor who has been carefully groomed to fill your specific job title? Or will you depart having developed the capabilities of as many people as possible?

One definition of leading is “to show the way to by going in advance.” When you use this definition of leadership, you’ll see all sorts of opportunities to develop people, and far beyond just promoting them to a leadership title.

At some point in their lives, everyone has the chance to “show the way.” When you provide your team members with an opportunity to exercise their leadership muscles, you’re giving them a tremendous gift.

Leadership development need not be just for those who aspire to an official job title. And, you don’t need to spend a bucket-load of money. The key is seeing leadership development opportunity in everyday situations.

Common workplace scenarios where development opportunities lie in wait:

  1. Setbacks. Character is the bedrock of leadership and nothing builds character like a project that tanks. If you as the leader frame the failure as a learning opportunity, you will set in motion a powerful motivator to grow. I once led a high-visibility project that fell far short of expectations. My work team leader adopted an approach of “get back up on that horse.” She expressed confidence that I could learn from my mistakes and that I would be a better project leader on the next go-round. And I was.
  2. Transition. Any time there is an imminent change, you have a prime opportunity to coach people to lean into leadership, either formally or informally. Possible opportunities: promotions, appointment to project leadership, department restructuring or procedural changes. Look for any situation that requires that others be “brought along” into a new territory. Then, identify someone on your team who has both the competence and enthusiasm about the change to act as a “pied piper” of sorts.
  3. Technical expertise. Do you have a highly skilled “technician” on your staff — someone who excels in a particular skill that others would benefit learning about? Work with that individual to help him craft a series of “lunch and learns” for your team. You can also look for ways you can showcase your team members’ talents beyond your department — send them in your stead to meetings or have them make presentations at all-company meetings.
  4. Differing opinions. In the workplace, there’s an abundance of opinions. When those viewpoints clash, your team needs leadership to help bring the group to consensus. That person doesn’t always need to be you. When you help others in your team develop the skill of facilitating dialogue, there are multiple paybacks. Not only do your discussion leaders gain key business skills, but your team works together more smoothly.

Tom Peters has said, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” There are ample chances to grow leaders each and every day. When you know where to look, it’s surprising just how many “leadership development” opportunities there really are.

Jennifer V. Miller uses her knack for seeing opportunities that others overlook to help mid-career leaders take their game to a higher level. Her chapter on Leadership Touchstones appears in the book “The Character-Based Leader.” Visit her blog, The People Equation, for tips on increasing your IQ — Influence Quotient — and connect with her on Twitter @JenniferVMiller.