In any growing organization, it’s important for team leaders to be visible. On the surface, this serves a practical purpose: the CEO simply can’t be the provider of and answer for all things, so team leaders can help fill that gap.
More importantly, coaxing team leads into more visible leadership fosters stronger communication, engagement, culture and purpose throughout the organization. And it sets up the leadership team to take on a bigger role and, ultimately, grow beyond the organization.
Start With an Invitation
Will the people you would like to become your team leads naturally volunteer? They may or may not. For many reasons, people often don’t – particularly if they, and more than 70% of your current board members and your leadership team are not womxn, BIPOC and/or openly LGBTQ++. The implicit message they tend to receive is that “You don’t belong in this role, at this level, etc.”
Extending an invitation for people to become more visible, therefore, is really important. Aside from the identities an individual may hold, the other key part of inviting people is letting them in on your vision. Sometimes, as a leader we can see possibilities for the future that our team members cannot yet see. We may have earlier access to information about upcoming initiatives inside the company, or more industry experience that helps us appreciate their talents, or a bigger network from which we are exposed to more external information, as well.
If they’re on a growth S curve, you don’t want them to derail. Know where they are in their journey and start the conversation with them so it can percolate. Once they’ve had time to think about where they are and where they want to go, check in with them to work together to make a plan and set time goals.
Provide the Support They Need
Not every person is the same or approaches their job in the same way. As their leader, it’s important to encourage them to grow and develop in the way that works best for them to thrive, not you.
Some leaders are careful, deliberate and conscientious. They do all their research and homework first, to really understand what good looks like. It’s OK to make space for that.
Others like to jump in with both feet and learn by doing. They may make a mistake and need some compassion, and that’s OK, too. When you trip and skin your knees, you pick yourself up, attend to any issues and keep going.
Whatever their process is, it’s important to help them evolve into more visible leadership in the way that works for them. Remember, this is their next step.
Help Reluctant Leaders
What if a team leader feels resistant to stepping up and becoming more visible? Offer suggestions and encouragement, while giving them the grace and space to think about it.
One of our team leaders needed three months to accept a new role that had been offered to them in the Kadabra organization, but it was important that they have this time because I wanted them to be at the table. If this is a good next step for them, they’ll figure that out and be 100% committed. Some people might benefit from an agreed-upon deadline to make a decision.
Let Go of Fear
A good leader works to find and appreciate the unique potential and gifts in people, and plants the seeds early to give them the possibility to grow.
Great leaders aren’t fearful that their team members will surpass them. In fact, they make a point to hire people smarter and more talented than they are. And then they help them grow even more.
Some people may end up ‘better’ than you—that’s fantastic. If everyone on the team becomes better, smarter, wiser or more talented, that’s only good news for you and the organization. If you aspire to a higher level of leadership in your organization than where you are now, keep in mind that your ability to grow and develop outstanding talent is valuable currency.
In fact, a big compliment to any leader is when you’ve contributed in a meaningful way to someone’s growth and development. Helping them on their journey is a thrill.
See the Big Picture
The truth is that the shelf life of top talent is only about four years. Then they’ll likely be off to the next thing. That’s true for most people, especially in the first two-thirds of their careers.
If we have that in our minds from the get-go, it changes how we think about their abilities and growth trajectory.
While they’re with you, it’s your responsibility as a leader to help them grow into that new role—and make the most of the time you have with them.
Plan for Them to Leave
As much as you appreciate them and pour into them, most team members won’t stay with you forever. Rather than see that as a sign of failure, see it as part of the natural process and plan for it.
Have candid conversations with team members about what their next step is. It may be within this organization, or it may be somewhere else.
Planned transitions are much easier than abrupt ones. Rather than waiting for someone to job hunt and give two weeks’ notice, help everyone plan and adapt so the transition is organized.
When we let go of managing people as if they will stay their whole careers, it frees us from uncertainty and puts us in a different (and better) perspective.
Appreciate the Flow
Sometimes, people go away and then come back. That can be wonderful. Every organization benefits from expanded life experience, seasoning and well-roundedness of team members. People don’t get all of that in one organization.
This is why the natural flow of allowing a leader to grow within the organization through elevated visibility–both internally and externally–is so important. Foster that growth now and make a plan for more.