Transforming Our Successors into Successful Leaders

Published: Apr 10, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Cindy Schuler

You’ve most likely heard the question, “Are leaders born or developed?” People are born with leadership qualities, but leaders are developed over time.  As managers, we need to recognize that we were, at one time, trained by someone above us in the hierarchy, and it is our responsibility to pay the favor forward by developing our successors. Committing to teach those we manage and mentor utilizing our own professional successes and failures will create a natural ripple effect and infiltrate our organizations with effective leaders who will become the future of our organizations. 

The two most important aspects in developing leaders are (1) identifying leadership qualities and (2) developing leadership skills. The question is whether or not all employees have leadership qualities. The short answer is yes.  Each individual has some leadership qualities. It is up to the manager to observe and identify those key qualities in specific individuals and then focus on building and leveraging them. 

Identifying Leadership Qualities
While there are many leadership qualities, identify the people who embody forward thinking, drive and determination, flexibility/adaptability, and honesty. 

A forward thinker has a long-term vision and sees the big picture. Forward thinkers understand the mission of the organization and exercise creativity by brainstorming how to reach the goals set for the organization by identifying where the organization is now, where it would like to be, and how to get there.

A potential leader also displays characteristics of drive and determination. This  person  must have the drive to make a difference long-term by displaying excitement in helping propel the organization to the next level, and, most important, this person will have the will to succeed.  A leader is self-motivated; is not easily deterred, and will see things through to the end.

We must also identify people who are flexible and can adapt to change. A potential leader will hear others, consider their ideas, and empower them without feeling threatened. They see the strengths in each person on the team and capitalize on those strengths. And a good leader is able to give and take constructive criticism and, most important,  is able to adapt to change and switch gears mid-stream regardless of the challenge.

 Finally, develop those people who are honest and trustworthy. These are employees who do not engage in gossip; who people flock to and follow because they trust their judgment; and who you would feel comfortable with leaving in charge of an important project/deadline when you are out of the office. Look to those who do not create waves between team members, but rather help resolve conflict. Most important, look for those who are compassionate listeners, who make others feel comfortable, and who offer sound advice. Honest and trustworthy leaders will be successful in persuading others to follow their lead.     

Developing Leadership Skills
In addition to identifying specific qualities in our future leaders, we must also commit to help those we manage and mentor develop specific skills, including gaining trust and respect, developing and maintaining a positive, team-player attitude, employing time management and organizational skills, and acting as a change agent.

In order to be an effective leader, one must be able to earn the trust and respect of the team. Developing relationships means spending time with individuals mentoring and coaching them—things that go a long way to building a future leader. Some examples of building trust and respect across a team include hosting weekly meetings with an open forum featuring the rule 'no idea is a stupid idea' or by holding weekly team meetings and openly praising the team for accomplishments, while offering constructive criticism regarding individual challenges in a one-on-one environment and coaching through alternatives for future efforts. The team must ultimately feel they can come to a leader with any issue and that s/he will work to resolve conflict in a fair and open manner.

It is not always easy to maintain a positive attitude, but this is essential in building a future leader.  Effective leaders display a team-player attitude while delegating and empowering others.  Leaders are fair and open minded – maintaining flexibility  and trying new things.  Team players praise their team for successes, and offer constructive criticism in order to facilitate growth.  They also take responsibility for the entire team, never blaming one person for the team's failure.  Each team member has different strengths and weaknesses, and a leader will identify the strengths in each person and leverage the weight of the team.

Time management and organizational skills are also essential in becoming an effective leader. A good leader leverages effective project management skills, managing time by thinking things through, planning, creating a timeline, setting realistic goals, building in time to assess, and making changes as needed. Team meetings should be conducted along the way to reassess goals and keep the team updated on progress. 

Finally, a leader must be a change agent. These individuals understand that change is inevitable and always see opportunity in a challenge. They welcome change by fostering an environment where the team is accepting change, and they are willing to do what is needed to help their organization over potential hurdles in order to reach new levels.

A Leader's Responsibility
As leaders, it is our responsibility to develop the employees we mentor and manage as we were developed, in order to maintain continuity within our organization and build a new generation of leaders. Step one is identifying those leadership qualities in our employees such as forward thinking, drive and determination, flexibility/adaptability, and honesty. Step two is committing to assist in the development of a specific skillset such as  how to gain trust and respect, how to develop and maintain a positive team attitude, how to employ time management and organizational skills, and how to act as a change agent.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that every manager will be a leader or that everyone selected for further leadership development will be an effective leader. What we do know is that human capital is vital to the success or failure of any organization, and organizations need leaders at all levels. The best teaching comes from real life professional experiences from experienced leaders.

As Jim Collins states in Good to Great, executives who ignited transformations of organizations from good to great said "Look, I don't really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much:  If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we'll figure out how to take it someplace great." Your challenge is to identify the right people, and then develop and empower them to take your organization to someplace great.

About the Author(s)

Cindy Schuler is the Director of Human Resources at Washington, DC-based intellectual property law firm Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox P.L.L.C. For more information, contact: [email protected].