One of the most critical aspects of building and leading a strong team is cultivating strong leadership within the team itself.
This is a never-ending, constant task for a leader or manager. A team that organically generates inspiration and trust amongst its members will be happier, output higher volumes of better work, and suffer much lower turnover rates. So it’s important to have a clear idea of what leadership potential signifiers you look for in your team’s members.
The number one thing I look for to identify leadership potential in my directs is humility.
There are other things that are important to being an effective leader, of course: the ability to communicate well, present, manage executives, set and manage expectations, prioritize, compromise, make good decisions autonomously, and so on.
However, I’ve found that people who are talented, driven, and humble tend to effortlessly earn a reputation of leadership…peers want to follow them, business parters and clients want to work with them.
Furthermore, since humble leaders can put others before themselves—they can listen completely to dissenting perspectives and realize when another idea is better than their own, or see alternative approaches that no one else recognizes—the quality of their work is consistently much higher.
Things that are coachable, and things that aren’t so coachable
I’m constantly coaching my directs on communicating, prioritizing, presenting, managing upwards, setting expectations, and so on, and I’ve found that all of my directs can get better at all of these things with training and practice.
However, humility seems to be an innate quality that’s very difficult to influence or instill. It’s a lot trickier to help someone develop humility—especially people who are passionate about their work.
So how do you cultivate humility in your team’s prospective leaders? That’s a tough question, with many, many possible answers—but there are two things that I’ve found to be pretty effective.
Schedule regular 1-on-1 meetings
The first is to make sure you’re regularly having 1-on-1 meetings with all of your direct reports. 1-on-1 meetings are great opportunities for individual coaching and development, and for building trust between yourself and your directs.
This last point is crucial, as it will yield enormous dividends later on when you’re coaching them. Even if you’re giving difficult feedback to one of your team members, they’ll be much more receptive since they trust you. It’s a positive feedback loop that compounds momentum on many levels.
Give them a chance to fail autonomously
Another thing that I’ve found works well is learning what kind of challenges they’re really interested in. What kind of stuff do they like to work on? Are they interested in a certain type of project, learning a new methodology, experimenting with a new technology?
You can learn this by—surprise!—asking them in your 1-on-1 meetings. Then, find a way to give them some degree of responsibility and ownership of some aspect of a current or upcoming project that’s related to this interest.
This will give your directs a chance to “spread their wings,” help them practice autonomy and prioritization…and often gives them a chance to fail.
Which will help them develop humility.