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How to Nurture Tomorrow's Leaders

Published on October 24, 2019

Learn three ways you can personally help train future leaders.

Who taught you how to drive your first car? Maybe it was your parents, a family friend or a driver's education teacher. Whoever it was, they most likely had a lot of experience driving in order to show you the ropes. Everyone has great stories about learning to drive, as it's an important milestone; a rite of passage to adulthood. Hopefully, your teacher showed you the basics and also shared some tips and tricks of their own that they learned along the way.

In a similar vein, to become an effective leader, we need someone more experienced to guide us along the path. Unfortunately, although many organizations recognize that strong leaders are needed in the future as today's current leaders are growing older, they don't always have solid structures in place to train and guide the younger generation of employees.

Regardless of your organization's programs (or lack thereof), we recommend you take matters into your own hands and consider what you can do personally to nurture tomorrow's leaders. It will prove rewarding for you as well as for your organization.

Look for opportunities to mentor. Sometimes experienced professionals shy away from mentoring because they don't feel qualified to educate others effectively or because of the extra time and responsibility this type of relationship might require. And while a formal mentorship generally involves scheduled meetings and regular support, you don't have to be a formal mentor to provide mentoring to younger professionals. There are many opportunities to mentor others if you look out for them.

A mentor is someone who advises or trains, similar to teaching someone how to drive a car. Ideally, the desire to learn is already there (meaning the young professional/mentee wants to cultivate leadership skills), they just need some guidance. Think about taking advantage of these learning opportunities:

• Ask a younger professional to help with a project that you lead or manage. Instead of them watching you do it, get them involved. Guide them through the process of handling the task and explain why you do things a certain way. This will help them to understand the most efficient way of handling the task.

• Take a timeout. If you see a young professional struggling, take a moment to talk with them about any challenges they are having with their role or their team. Advise them on what they could do to manage those issues and to show greater leadership skills.

• When you are approached for advice, instead of directly giving the answer, ask them what they think an effective leader would do. Help them come to a conclusion on their own. This will help train them to think on their feet, empower them to find their own answers and build their confidence.

Provide honest feedback. As a current leader, it's important to give regular and honest feedback to younger professionals. This includes giving them kudos when they have done a good job on a project, but take it a step further when you can. Be specific in your feedback. Help them understand why they did well and what leadership skills and qualities were exhibited. This will help them build awareness around the leadership skills they already are demonstrating but also those they may not be aware of. This will give them an incentive to keep working at cultivating their skill set.

Feedback also includes letting them know if they haven't done a good job, or if they could do better. Just as a driver's education teacher alerted you to potholes and to the car in your blind spot, younger professionals need to know when they are headed toward potential danger. However, honest feedback doesn't mean you shouldn't be tactful. Commend them for something positive before giving constructive criticism, since this will make it easier for them to accept it. Avoid crushing their spirit; provide feedback in a way that you would like to receive it.

You can also nurture the younger generation by being accessible. When others are comfortable approaching you, they will come to you voluntarily for feedback. This can ease some of the awkwardness of you having to approach someone to give constructive criticism. Many young professionals do want to advance and improve their skill sets, they just need someone to show them how.

Practice active listening in meetings and when talking to them one on one. Don't just give them advice, ask questions as well to empower them. Be as transparent as possible with information, don't advocate keeping secrets and be willing to share your expertise and experience. Keep your door open, literally, as often as you can. Leverage technology to expand your reach by posting articles on LinkedIn to demonstrate you're accessible.

Be an example. Actions speak louder than words. Younger professionals are observing you and will imitate you. While you may not be able to provide personal assistance to all of tomorrow's leaders, you can provide a good example for them to follow. Be positive, calm under pressure and exemplify how to manage change and conflict effectively. Also, look for ways to sharpen your own skill set and stay on top of current trends.

If all of today's leaders try to implement these and other ways of nurturing tomorrow's leaders, organizations will be stronger and ready to take on tomorrow's challenges.
Source: AICPA – CPA Letter Daily – October 4, 2019)