Identifying emerging leaders is one of the keys to developing a sustainable pipeline of leaders that can prepare an organization for long-term success. We often hear about how important it is to cultivate these gems, but what exactly is an emerging leader and how can they support business growth and success?

Emerging Leaders

Emerging leaders are employees who have demonstrated the potential to assume a mid-to-high-level leadership role within an organization, however, they have had little to no managerial experience or development. They are strong performers technically who have potential and aspire to achieve higher-level roles. They are typically the employees who demonstrate commitment, are influential and are consistently willing to step up and take on more responsibility. Identifying these emerging leaders is vital.

When identifying emerging leaders, it is necessary to use the resources available to identify them. Observation, for example, is one. Observing the behaviors and actions of the individual and asking the question of how the behaviors contribute to organizational and individual success is key and will help to build the framework for developing an emerging leader protocol. Performance evaluations are another. The PE is what can be used to review consistency in skill usage over time. Conversations are yet another means by which to identify these leaders. Having conversations often is not only a way to identify them but is essential to knowing the person at their core and building solid relationships that serve them as they grow in their careers. Finally, use scorecards to identify strengths, limitations, opportunities for growth, and determine readiness. What are the key strengths necessary for higher-level roles? What are the behaviors to be demonstrated consistently? What knowledge and skills must be applied consistently that would take them to the next level? Identify these things and use a scorecard to measure how close they are to meeting the ideal and if they are not meeting the ideal, plan for development.

Strong leaders are essential to the growth and continued success of any organization, so a firm understanding of who the emerging leaders are within an organization and a commitment to using the necessary resources to develop them is crucial.

How Organizations Can Develop Emerging Leaders

Developing emerging leaders should be tied to business strategy and the uniqueness of the business. Ideally, an organization will retain and develop leaders through established opportunities that enable them in their current role and prepare them for future leadership roles. This can be achieved through:

  • Establishing leader competencies
  • Encouraging self-awareness (EQ)
  • Deployment of leadership assessments
  • Creation of personalized development plans

Before doing so, however, the organization should first understand its goals. If the organization needs to solve for a lack of bench strength, for example, they should consider developing a tiered structure that enables promotions into successively higher roles attached to a sound development plan that builds bench strength. Organizations struggling with high-potential turnover may engage emerging leaders through cross-functional opportunities that broaden their understanding of the business and helps them to develop skills that can be applied.

When presenting development opportunities, it is important to understand your environment and the needs and desires of the emerging leader and recognize your organization’s unique leadership challenges so that the organization can respond to those needs accordingly. Most employees get excited about development opportunities that include elements of personalization, on-demand learning, long-term developmental assignments coupled with coaching and mentoring.

An organization will retain employees in general when they can take advantage of structured development opportunities that support their current role and prepare them for future roles. In addition to establishing leader competencies, encouraging EQ, leadership assessments, and IDPs, providing group coaching or engaging them in business case projects can also help develop vital cross-functional skills. If the organization is not structured or prepared to promote quickly, increasing experiences and exposure can provide skill building for growth.

Regardless of the approach, one thing is clear: you must start now. Business environments are evolving quickly and the need for strong leadership is a necessity now more than ever. Organizations that invest in future leaders to build a pipeline for succession and retain emerging leaders are the ones who set themselves up for long-term organizational success!

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