It is a leader's responsibility to put people into positions where they can use their skills and the resources the organization provides to achieve results.
But that's only part of the equation. Employees, especially those who have a stated desire to move up the ladder, must do their part and embrace greater levels of responsibility even when it means getting more education, more training, or even relocating. It's a matter of reciprocity: The employer provides, the employee delivers.
Much of leadership education focuses on what leaders must do, but too little focuses on what employees must do to reciprocate. Many well-intentioned executives go to bat for their employees only to be left put out, that is, having employees shrug off real opportunities. Here are some suggestions for developing reciprocity.
Insist on ownership. Make it known that every employee is responsible for his or her own development. Provide access to resources, but make sure certain individuals use them.
Take stock of competencies. Ask employees to list what they do well. Also engage in discussion about what they like doing. Consider what skills they need to move up in the organization.
Formulate work development plans. This is a term some companies use to refer to technical or on-the-job training. It refers to what you must do to keep current in your career now.
Provide leadership development. Such opportunities are wide and varied. In-house programs offer action learning, the chance for people to assume new roles, work in teams, and deliver on measurable business objectives. Executive education programs offer individuals access to university faculty as well as classes with students from different companies. Leadership development also includes coaching and mentoring.
Increase levels of responsibility. Most adults learn by doing. For individuals who embrace ownership, find ways to give them more responsibilities. You can make this happen in their current jobs or find ways for them to learn new job skills that lead to new responsibilities. This, too, is a form of leadership development.
Look over the horizon. Use your one-on-one time to discuss future options. You can ask employees where they see themselves one, two, and five years down the line. Of course, prior to asking such questions you need to make it safe for people to say they want to move on—or even hope to land your job. This is healthy; it gives the individual an opportunity to grow and the manager time to think about a successor.
The underlying driver in each of these steps comes from the willingness of the leader to commit to developing the next generation of leaders. This is what leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith refers to as "succession development." It is more than planning for who's next; it is developing the next one, two, or three people in successive generations of leadership. It is a holistic view of the development process.
Development can only succeed if employees embrace the challenge and demonstrate their willingness to commit to development. It will require an investment in time and resources; it may also mean a sacrifice of personal time and maybe even a move to another city. But if an employee truly likes what he or she does and wants to lead others, this sacrifice will be necessary and, in the long run, will pay significant dividends.