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How to win over employees on taking leadership roles

Every manager should be looking to help employees advance, but there's no one solution. You must approach each employee based on their specific skill set, experience and career aspirations.

7 min read




Not every employee is cut out for management, but there are potential leaders in your company right now just waiting for the opportunity to demonstrate their skills.

According to the 2017 Workplace Learning Report, 46% of employers find it challenging to groom workers for management roles. The study surveyed more than 500 leadership and development professionals across the US and Canada.

However, effective management begins at the top. Warren Bennis described leadership as “the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Bennis’ advice still rings true today. Unless current leaders communicate expectations and develop employees’ leadership skills, a leadership gap will remain. In fact, a 2016 Employee Engagement Trends report by Quantum Workforce, surveying workers in more than 1,000 organizations across 150 countries, found 31% of employees seek greater communication from their managers.

Clearly, there’s a link between the employee desire for increased communication and employer difficulty in finding and placing qualified managers. The first step to securing solid leadership for your organization is to identify why workers don’t want to be leaders in the first place. From there, you must determine ways to interest them in leadership roles.

Here’s how you can begin to understand why your employees are resistant to taking on leadership roles and how you can approach them about leadership opportunities:

1. Why employees don’t want to fill leadership roles

Some workers fear their work/life balance will be jeopardized if they accept a management position. Similarly, many employees are simply content in their current role and job duties and have no desire to take on new responsibilities.

Still others may be unhappy at work and are looking to make a move. Accepting a management position would “tie them down” and leave them with potentially negative performance reviews.

Keep in mind that many employees do have the desire to transition into leadership but lack the skills necessary to excel in such roles. These employees should not be overlooked when evaluating leadership potential.

2. Why it’s important to evaluate internal leadership potential

Your main interest is to place the most effective leaders who will inspire employees to perform well and grow. The future of the company relies on this evolution of support and encouragement to ensure leadership inspires from the top down to develop leaders from the bottom up.

However, workers also need to know how leadership roles will directly benefit them. You need to show them how they can turn their expertise and passions into a career path. Employees want to be sure a new role will present opportunities for growth and challenges instead of preventing them from working on current projects and ideas they’re interested in to simply supervise progress.  

It’s important to understand that empowering workers to become effective leaders is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. You must approach each employee based on their specific skill set, experience and career aspirations. Tap into the passion of already highly-engaged workers by explaining how taking on a management role will allow them to make an even greater impact on their career and the future success of the company.

3. How to encourage employees to become managers

Workers nearing retirement age

Many employees of an advanced age feel their best years are behind them. They may even feel unimportant in a changing work landscape and, because they are looking toward retirement, intend to just run out the clock. However, these highly experienced workers are a tremendous asset to any organization.

Encourage older workers to take on leadership roles by demonstrating how their skills and experience help strengthen the company. That experience goes beyond working in management roles. Mentorship will help younger workers gain a new perspective.

In addition, leadership positions give older workers a stronger voice in the company. Heading meetings and participating in mentoring programs with younger workers shows these workplace veterans how their wisdom and insight offer new perspectives and different approaches to problem-solving.

Rather than feeling as they are obsolete, you can demonstrate to these employees that lending their wisdom is important to the company’s success. This sets a positive example of how the company views dedicated employees.

New workers

Younger workers, and those brand new to the workforce, are searching for ways to prove themselves and quickly gain skills and experience. Leadership roles are exactly what they’re looking for, even if they don’t actively seek out these positions. Millennials in particular could see management is a way for them to take their brand to a new level.

Clearly show them how they will build networking skills and become an authority in their chosen concentrations. Every interaction with a co-worker or client is an opportunity to build interpersonal skills.

In addition, encourage these younger workers to draft and submit original ideas to trade publications and on public forums such as LinkedIn. This will get their name and ideas seen, and will help them build a following/audience that also benefits the company brand.  

Restless workers

Employees who seem disinterested, listless or otherwise “in a rut” can also benefit from being encouraged to step into leadership roles. Current leaders should present them with opportunities to learn new skills. Taking on a new role will give them a renewed interest in work.

Demonstrate to restless workers how management will implement training and development into new areas of learning and professional growth. Then, create a brainstorming committee these workers can spearhead to determine the most effective professional development opportunities available.

Have them team up with existing company leaders to determine methods by which to best implement the programs. This will make restless workers active members of the organization, and will make them excited about work again.  

Mid-career workers

Mid-career employees may be unsure how best to advance without having to start over. Show them how accepting leadership roles creates a path to move forward. This could be as simple as pairing them with entry-level workers who share similar skill sets. The idea will also work with those who are nearing retirement.

Have these workers collaborate on projects where they can learn new ideas, gain different perspectives, and become a mutual source of inspiration. Doing so will remind them of why they began their career path in the first place, and will move them to take on a larger leadership role within the organization.

While it’s true that some employees have no interest in leadership roles, there are many who are unclear and confused about how to become a leader as well as how that role would improve their value and strength as an employee.

For those receptive workers, it’s important to reach them at their level in terms of career stage and experience, and then demonstrate how accepting a leadership role not only benefits the company, but empowers them to create a solid path for the rest of their career and their life.

What is your company doing to find and groom quality managers?


Val Matta is the vice president of business development at CareerShift, a comprehensive job-hunting and career-management solution for companies, outplacement firms, job seekers and university career centers. Connect with Matta and CareerShift on LinkedIn.

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