Nurture Leadership

a baby bean sprout by lilfishstudios, on Flickr

a sprout by lilfishstudios, from Flickr

I saw a phrase recently about the need to “nurture leadership”. The article was about a centuries-old institution that is in decline for reasons that are complex. And while I may find a way to tie the institution and the reasons into this site’s theme of leadership and management in a further post, it is solely this phrase that I want to focus on.

Nurture is a transitive verb; it’s an action that is done to something or someone. Protect, support, feed, encourage, to bring up, train, educate. And leadership is the action of leading or the people doing the leading.

So how is leadership nurtured?

I focus on both the environment and the people.

  1. Build skills. Not everyone has the skills needed to be a leader. There may need to be some education. Some of this training should be external (both the location and trainer) and some should be internal.
  2. Expect leadership. Make it clear that you expect leadership and that you’ll be watching for it. Both parts are important—”it’s hard to expect what you don’t inspect”.
  3. Provide opportunities. Seek out openings for your people to take a leadership role in something. Some opportunities should be small while others should be a stretch.  But there should always be a realistic chance that they would succeed.
  4. Coach. It’s not enough to simply point your new leader toward the goal and walk away. Observe her and discreetly provide feedback as needed. Positive reinforcements, thoughtful questions and sometimes a suggestion or two can all be useful tools.
  5. Encourage. Unless you’re Steve Jobs (and maybe not even then), being a leader can be a thankless role. Provide periodic encouragement to keep the environment supportive.
  6. Provide times for reflection. Have your emerging leader take a few moments periodically to think carefully about her situation, how things are going, what might be done differently and how to catch things before they turn negative.
  7. Celebrate successes. This can go hand-in-hand with encouragement but is important enough to warrant separate mention. Nothing breeds more success than building on a current achievement.

And lastly, remind them that it’s about contributions and not the title.

Readers, how would you go about nurturing leadership? Do you have anything you’d like to share? Add your suggestions below or comment privately to JeffreyGifford (at) gmail (dot) com.

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