Leadership Responsibility: Developing Your People

“Talented performers flock to the best and brightest leaders, and these leaders in turn lift the lids off their people and uncork the latent talent inside of them.” – John Maxwell

In our work with a variety of different companies and industries, we still find it fascinating that not all leaders truly believe it is their leadership responsibility to develop the talent on their team. These days some 80% of all organizations measure employee engagement, but to what end? How does a leader actually get one of his or her employees to feel more connected and more engaged?

I recently read a delightful book, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want” by Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle-Giulioni. It offers a compelling look at what today’s employees want more of and it is not all that shocking- people want their leaders to develop them. Indeed, Kaye and Winkle-Giulioni define career development as “nothing more than helping others grow. And nothing else”. 

So what stands in the way of seizing this simple definition of leadership and doing something about it? According to these authors, we have made it all too complicated. The long and the short of it is, careers are developed one conversation at a time. Not during the arduous long review board process or in the elaborate individual development plan (IDP). These conversations are spaced over time and are designed to offer support and guidance. They come with the understanding that people who want to grow, have to put the effort into fostering their own development, but what they don’t want is for the leader to completely abdicate his/her responsibility.

I have had the pleasure of watching one young talent completely bloom and prosper with this approach. During my retail career at Macy’s, we recruited heavily from the University of Florida and being a past graduate and a senior leader in the organization, I was asked to do my fair share of meeting and greeting with the candidates. There was one guy who really stood out- Jeff (not his real name). Jeff was so excited to begin his new career with us, he really wanted the job and he interviewed aggressively. His enthusiasm was contagious and an offer was extended. He accepted, and started in another division where there was an opening. His style was a clash with the new boss as he didn’t share Jeff’s enthusiasm for new ways of doing things. Because I liked the guy and I kept my eye on how he was doing, word got back to me that he was struggling. The HR team also liked Jeff, so they asked me to take him in my division to see if he would have an opportunity to make it. 

Right from the start I was straight with Jeff and told him the things he needed to do to change some of the perception about his leadership style and to harness his strengths. He was like a sponge. He took the feedback to heart and asked to meet with me regularly to track his progress and craft a plan for the career he really wanted. He was impressive, mostly because of his desire to own his own success, but also because he made good on his commitment. He met with me consistently and he asked for guidance and support. It was a pleasure to see him hit success after success, and today, some 10 years later, he is a Vice President with the same company who wasn’t sure he would make it!

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership”.

-Harvey S. Firestone

So how do you approach your talent about the opportunity for their growth? Are you stoking their fires and encouraging their dreams? Do people want to work for you because they know you will push them towards their full potential? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you may want to pick up a copy of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.” It will remind you why it is so important to your people and to yourself.