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Unlocking Potential


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By Keith Barnwell

You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within” – Bob Nelson

“Our people are our most important asset.” How often do we see this trotted out on the cover of Annual Reports – and how rarely do we see it actually being put into practice? Of course it is true, no company can survive, let alone thrive, without its people. Your people are also the best source of future management and leadership and, whilst it is important at times to bring in new ideas and innovation, it is much better to develop talent from within, for a number of reasons, amongst which are:

  • They know the business environment,
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  • They understand the culture,
  • They may have developed strategic working relationships with key stakeholder groups,
  • It is very expensive to recruit and integrate new senior managers and leaders.

As a leader one of your most important responsibilities is to help nurture talent, to develop the leaders of the future and bring out the best in all those that report to you. Here are some ways that you can be doing this:

Create a no-blame culture by supporting your people when they fail.  People will undoubtedly get things wrong, we all do. If you deal with failure in a positive, supportive way it will encourage others to be prepared to take risks, secure in the knowledge that you, as their leader, will support them. Organisations that learn from failures go further and achieve more than ones that punish those that they deem responsible.

Challenge them to take on more responsibility and be prepared to release some of yours. When you delegate responsibility, make it real and resist the urge to take back control when you think the going is getting tough. Don’t drown ambition; it is easier to dampen someone’s ambition and enthusiasm than it is to ignite them.

Be their role model. Never forget that they will learn the most from your actions and behaviours – not your words

Think less about yourself and more about them.  Find out what their strengths and weaknesses are, what motivates them and where they want to go; then ask how you can help them to get there.

Step back so they can step forward. In doing so you must first prepare them, provide resources, set deadlines and be prepared to support them. They will learn to become leaders faster through leading others.

Accept average performance, but only as long as there is the passion to learn and improve.

Show that you trust them by not micromanaging them and allowing them to learn from their mistakes.

Be their safety net. Developing leaders need a safe place where they can recover when things go

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wrong and gain the confidence to try again.

Be prepared to learn from them and acknowledge their knowledge and experience. They will learn through teaching you and others.

Give both positive and negative feedback. Be prepared to point out mistakes or poor behaviour at the time, and remember to say well done when it is deserved.

Coach them. Don’t give them all the answers, if you do so you will take away their need to think for themselves.

Be prepared to celebrate their successes and ensure that they receive any credit that they are due as reward for their efforts.

I am sure that you can add to this list. Never forget that talent and leadership potential can be found at all levels, but you will only unlock it if you look for it and then nurture it.  If your organisation doesn’t have a talent management programme in place you need to be asking why.

Thank you for reading and please share this post with others who you think may find it helpful.

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This is an extract from the LeaderFocus App for the iPad available on iTunes.  To learn more and to download the LeaderFocus App click on the icon.  Keith Barnwell is a leadership development specialist and executive coach at It’s All About Leadership