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How to Transition Your Employee to a Leader

June 27, 2017

By: Crystal Spraggins

The world needs good leaders, that’s a fact. Look around. Whether in the political arena, the spiritual arena, or the workplace, people need leaders to provide direction, guidance, resources, and inspiration.

Still, raising up a leader in your organization is easier said than done. A 2015 report from Gallup posited that only 1 in 10 individuals actually have what it takes to manage. Repeat: 1 in 10. If you’re a manager, you might take objection to that statistic—until you consider your own manager, or the manager down the hall or around the corner, that is.

Fortunately, none of that means you can’t transition your chosen employee into a dynamic, effective leader. And like we said, the world needs good leaders. So what are you waiting for? Here are three tips to get you started.

Tip#1. Recognize that Leaders Are First Born and Then Made

Whether you agree or disagree with the Gallup report, you have to admit that not everyone is suited to be a leader. Great leaders are patient, assertive, organized, and skilled at communication, among other things. While all of these qualities can be learned, there are limitations. Consider the following:

  • People who don’t want to learn most likely won’t.
  • Multiple deficiencies in multiple areas makes for one huge learning curve.
  • Excellence occurs when natural talents are strengthened through practice and habit.

Putting it all together then, before you decide to transition an employee into leadership, make sure you’ve targeted an employee who’s demonstrated he/she has the natural ability for the job. Ideally, this individual has a history of using informal power effectively and has had his/her natural tendencies verified through a reliable behavioral assessment, such as the Omnia Profile. Testing employees identified as potential future leaders is a smart way to ensure a healthy return on your investment.

Tip #2. Create a Culture Where Good Leadership Can Flourish

Your efforts to transition an employee to a leader will be hampered without a solid foundation. For example:

  • Does your organization value good leadership? “Duh!” might seem to be the obvious response, but let’s think about this for a minute. Are your leaders formally evaluated on how well they get work done through others, or are independent contributions deemed more important than team accomplishments? For instance, does your company excuse the toxic consequences of abusive leadership by pointing out how much bad leader so-and-so knows about thus and such? No? Yay!
  • Is yours a learning culture? Are employees encouraged to self-reflect and learn from mistakes? Are people allowed to make mistakes without fear of reprisal? Are managers comfortable with being challenged? How often does your company let the best idea win, regardless of who presented it?
  • Is the organization committed to regular employee development? A commitment to ongoing employee development is not a casual thing. Employers and employees alike might bemoan how training takes people away from their “real jobs,” but deviating from business as usual to learn about a new way of thinking or doing is critical for sustained high performance. Steven Covey calls it sharpening the saw, and it’s one of the seven habits of highly effective people—and by extension—workplaces.
  • Are mentors in place and willing to serve? Every leader needs a confidant and coach to help show him/her the way when “the troubles” start. Formal mentoring programs have their limitations (we learn best when we’re mentored by those we’ve choose based on common interests and personality similarities), but the basic idea is sound. Make sure your emerging leader has a trusted, wise, and engaged member of the staff to call on when needed.

Tip #3. Finally, Make Sure Your Employee Wants to Lead—and For the Right Reasons

As we’ve already noted, not everyone is suited to leadership. It’s equally true that not everyone wants to lead, but few are willing to forgo a promotion if that’s the only option. As the employer making these decisions, you need to be aware of your employee’s motivation to lead and take pains to ensure he/she truly wants what you're offering. You’ll also want to steer clear of employees attracted to leadership because they desire power but not the responsibility that comes with it.






Crystal Spraggins

Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at:

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