Building Leaders from Within: Are your managers only just about managing?


If you’ve been to one of our leadership development sessions you’ll be familiar with the question “Are great leaders born or made?” I love kicking things off with this question and the animated conversation it sparks amongst participants as they debate the question back and forth. 


So what’s the actual answer? While it can be subjective, here’s my take on it –  Great leaders understand that leadership is a journey, not a destination, they’re committed to ongoing personal and professional development and while some people may naturally possess certain qualities that make them effective leaders, leadership skills can be developed and improved.


Leadership is overglorified… it’s just a combination of knowledge, skills, and behaviours that can all be learned and practised. Through education, training, and real-life experiences, most people can learn how to communicate effectively, make good decisions, inspire and empower their team, take risks and adapt to different situations if they want to. 


The impact of poor leadership in a scale-up business can be pretty devastating; affecting employee morale, productivity, and overall organisational health. Recruiting leaders from within can be a great strategy to mitigate this risk. By promoting individuals who have already demonstrated their skills, dedication, and potential, you’ll reap benefits, including:


They’re part of the DNA: Internal leadership candidates already know the company’s values, culture, and operations. This familiarity is often a helpful springboard to making informed decisions and navigating early leadership challenges more effectively.


It’s a great motivator: Promoting from within sends a message that hard work and dedication are recognised and rewarded, which boosts morale, fosters loyalty and keeps employees motivated and committed to their work. 


It’s cheaper: Hiring external leaders often involves significant recruitment and onboarding costs. By promoting from within, you can save on these expenses and invest in the development and training of existing employees instead.


The best people will stick around: Offering career advancement opportunities within helps retain talented employees. When individuals see a clear path for growth and development, they are more likely to hang in there and remain engaged in their work.


And while we totally get that external recruitment can also be a great way to bring in fresh perspectives and increase diversity,  I’m going to give you 5 actionable strategies to establish a robust leadership pipeline from within, ensuring the future success of your business stays in safe hands: 


  1. Identifying early Leadership Potential: this involves assessing a combo of qualities, skills, and behaviours. Leadership potential may not be immediately obvious. Keep your eyes and ears open for the following:


  • Masters of EQ: Look for individuals who demonstrate self-awareness, empathy, and the ability to build strong relationships.

  • High performers: Natural leaders often go above and beyond in their roles, take initiative, and demonstrate a strong work ethic.

  • Great communicators: Look for individuals who can articulate their ideas, actively listen to others and adapt, they’ll be able to influence and move others to action.

  • Problem-solvers: Look for individuals who can analyse problems, think critically, and make informed decisions based on available information.

  • Resilience: Look for individuals who are flexible, open to new ideas, and able to handle ambiguity and uncertainty.

  • Ownership mentality: Look for individuals who show initiative, are self-motivated and take responsibility for their actions. 


  1. Develop leadership potential: Provide inclusive opportunities for growth, mentorship, and invest in leadership development programs to help leaders emerge and be incubated. Here’s how:  


  • Establish your “curriculum: What are the specific competencies that are required to lead well in your business? Once you have these nailed you can create, share and signpost to resources that support the development of these competencies.

  • Establish Mentorship Programs: Encourage seasoned leaders to impart knowledge and guide emerging talents. In return they’ll have the opportunity to gain fresh perspectives. 

  • Deliver Training and Coaching: This is our zone of genius here at Peas, we can’t advocate enough for enrolling your emerging leaders on to training and coaching programmes to help them explore personal, individual and team leadership. 

  • Rotational projects: Cross-functional experience shapes well-rounded leaders. Think about the opportunities to enable employees to gain valuable exposure across the business.

  • Start early: This is a scary one but delegate “assumed authority” for significant projects to build confidence in taking full accountability for the success or failure of projects.


  1. Think ahead and get Succession Planning: You can mitigate leadership gaps by developing and continuously monitoring transition plans. Here’s how:


  • Identify the positions critical to your business’s success. 

  • Identify potential successors for each using the strategies we just covered.

  • Create tailored development plans including activities as outlined above.

  • Monitor progress and keep the succession plans under review, not all potential leaders make the grade and that’s ok. Career advancement can be linear or lateral! 


  1. Foster a Leadership Culture: I believe that leadership is not limited to a specific role or position so every employee can lead from wherever they sit in the organisation, from entry-level employees to top executives. To maximise your potential pipeline make leading like a boss business as usual:


  • Recognise and reward personal leadership qualities and be sure to praise role models examples publicly. 

  • Showcase diversity and inclusion in leadership development programs, being explicit about the benefits of diverse perspectives in decision-making roles.

  • Embed feedback loops and train employees to give and receive good quality, constructive and actionable feedback in real-time. 

  • Manage up, down, round and round! Make healthy accountability flow in every direction. 

  • Align individual objectives to wider company goals to demonstrate that everyone plays a leading role in the organisation’s success.

  • Celebrate taking calculated risks. 


  1. Take imperfect action: Remember, scaling a business is a journey with its fair share of bumps, setbacks, and mistakes. Your leadership pipeline doesn’t need to be perfect but the main takeaway is this – instead of accidentally promoting leaders in your business for the wrong reasons with no set criteria, be intentional about your leadership approach and if you need a little guidance, want to express interest in our forthcoming leadership development programme or access our coaching programmes please get in touch. 


We’d love to hear your comments or strategies that you have found work well in your own organisation!

And lastly, out of interest, what do you think; are great leaders born or made?

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