One of our discoveries as we studied High Performance Organizations was the strength and depth of their leadership bench. This is not an easy task to accomplish. As we began sharing this idea with other leaders, a question quickly emerged: How do you keep those on the bench engaged?
First, a quick definition of terms…
A leadership bench consists of the men and women who are preparing, and sometimes waiting, for their opportunity to assume official positions of leadership.
Keeping this group engaged is a serious leadership challenge. I don’t want to minimize the task, however, I do want to challenge the underlying assumption behind the question.
Leadership should not be confused with official “positions.” If you have emerging leaders “waiting to lead” until they get the right title, you probably don’t have the right next leaders identified. Encourage leaders to lead where they are. I have been in countless situations, in which the leadership was not coming from the positional leader. That’s okay. What is needed is leadership, not a title. Tell your emerging leaders to lead.
Now, once you and your emerging leaders are clear regarding their charge to lead, be sure you give them ample opportunities in addition to the ones they discover on their own. Stretch assignments are a fantastic option. These can come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as simple as organizing a team outing or as complex as leading a large, cross-functional team.
Stretch assignments accomplish several things. One, they can create exposure for these emerging leaders across your organization. Two, they can help the leaders build relationships outside their normal networks. Third, these assignments can be a vehicle for growth. Finally, if added to the emerging leaders current responsibilities, additional assignments can put pressure on them to increase their personal and leadership capacity – a skill every leader needs.
A final way to keep your leadership bench engaged is to ensure the men and women on the bench appreciate the value a season of preparation. Work with emerging leaders to co-create rigorous development plans. The truth is, when emerging leaders do gain a new role or title, the demands on them often increase. Help them use their time on the bench as a wonderful opportunity to turbo-charge their growth.
All in all, a leadership bench should be a high priority for every organization. It will provide a hedge against the pitfalls of being unprepared for the future. And, if you play it right, you can learn a lot about the men and women on the bench by how they embrace the opportunity.[GLS_Shield]