Great Leaders Develop Their People

Years of data have revealed a repeated theme for employees: they want to be competent at their jobs and have the ability to succeed. This has become so important to them that 40% of employees who feel they’ve been deprived of the training necessary to be effective at their jobs will leave before their second year. A Middlesex University study showed that over 70% of workers are not happy with their level of professional development because they are not reaching their full potential. Gone are the days when employees accepted a dull, clock-punching life, doing the bare minimum to get by.

From another perspective, leaders want more productivity and progress than ever before. Their expectations of their staff require higher expertise, commitment and dedication. Yet, ironically, leaders often fail to recognize the need to develop their people to attain the goals they set for them. Unknowingly, many leaders are forfeiting productivity gains of 200%, according to Dale Carnegie studies. They surrender 20% higher profits with employees underdeveloped for their demanding jobs, according to ATD research. Their turnover rates are also painful.

Many of these issues can be minimized with the proper emphasis on employee development. Unfortunately, too many companies struggle to practice it.

What Development Means

Raising the level of an employee‘s value is not as simple as getting them more training, although training is a very crucial aspect of it. Effective development touches every aspect of an employee’s experience, including technical, managerial and interactive skills. The employees who contribute the most to their company are given the ability to know what they’re doing, apply what they know, enjoy what they do and grow to do more.

Technical training is essential, of course, allowing each person to carry out the tasks they are assigned within the system provided to them. Studies show that less than 15% of workers feel they have the skills they need to use workplace technology to effectively do their jobs. This includes computer and internet usage.

Some jobs call for high levels of skill in several areas beyond the commonly accepted norms. For example, engineers may have great theoretical and innovative skills, but need to be more proficient at technical writing or public speaking to document or present their ideas. Production supervisors generally have good process and productivity knowledge, but often need communication or conflict resolution skills to address the issues that crop up every day.

Fortunately, excellent sources of specific training in all these areas are available and leaders will benefit by allowing their people to get any training they need. Companies that fail to budget for ample technical training also fail to account for the cost of a skill shortage, where processes fail and problems expand without sufficient solutions.

Many employees need better managerial skills, where communication and collaboration are essential. A staff that works well together sharing information and ideas, setting and achieving goals and drawing the input of others to make great plans is making use of good managerial skills.

Business insider Steve Olenkski sums up the development goals very nicely in the Forbes article, 8 Key Tactics For Developing Employees. He states that organizations develop employees for two reasons ¾ to enhance employee interest and engagement in their roles (which raises productivity), and to grow new managers who in turn engage others.

Engaged people take on more responsibility, motivate themselves to keep improving and inspire similar motives in those around them. Employee development is best designed to build better people who are more interested in what they’re doing, are more effective contributors and raise the bar for the entire culture. Everyone benefits when any employee develops into the person they ultimately can be.

Develop people through specific processes.

Career planning is an often-overlooked process that identifies an employee’s ambitions, skills and opportunities to grow, as seen from a long-term perspective. Companies should always be mindful of how each employee can maximize their potential and provide the most value.

Career plans are highly individualized, focused on the goals the employee and leader agree are worth attaining. Development steps are documented and tracked to make the process effective. You must guide, encourage and assist the employee along the way to make their experience fulfilling and provide the best outcomes.

Any worthwhile plan has measurable means of tracking progress and accomplishment. Criteria for development success are not difficult to create but are necessary to assess the status of the employee’s journey. A milestone may be to complete a series of formal training or finish a project using newly attained skills.

Another process-related aspect of employee development may actually be the minimization of some processes. In other words, reduce the red tape and technicalities workers often face in the completion of assignments. A mindful leader will mend political fences or streamline an official approval procedure to help an employee accomplish their work. Try to reduce mundane tasks or offload routine busywork to other resources when possible. Put as much authority into the employee’s hands as you can and their growth will accelerate. You’re interested in developing new skills and expertise, and people need the time to do that.

Develop people through specific actions.

Not all development needs to be formal or regimented as Gwen Moran notes in her Fast Company article, How to Help Build Employees’ Career Paths So They Don’t Quit. Growing and developing can also happen through everyday activities and assignments.

One of the best ways to grow an employee is to connect them with a mentor figure, someone who’s knowledge and insight have been proven over the years. One of the goals in mentoring is to train the mentee how to solve problems and gain the confidence and self-awareness needed to handle tough situations.

Employees who’ve shown that they’ve gained a greater perspective can also mentor others. Providing this opportunity is a great development step that benefits everyone, including the leader.

Employees benefit from learning how your company works, where experts in other disciplines teach their basic practices and procedures. Very few employees can describe the flow of work through each of their organization’s departments but knowing this puts them in a better position to contribute. Giving an employee the chance to shadow others helps them see how that department works. They gain invaluable knowledge.

By design, employees who show significant levels of development are candidates for moving up. When the time is right provide them the chance to prove themselves in a new role. This may be a vacancy from a retirement, or more significantly, a position created for them where no one has had the chance to lead before. Giving someone a groundbreaking chance to make a difference is the ultimate motivator.

A final area of development is to provide the employee opportunities to offer their input and receive your feedback. Discuss their progress, ideas and lessons learned. Let them know how they’re doing and offer continued insight, support and direction. This is the foundation for effectively developing your people.

Leading Powerfully Through Positivity

Negativity and discord have reached historic levels in our culture. Most aspects of our lives are widely affected by worsening attitudes, constant complaints and pessimistic mindsets. Like a virus, they spread easily, even when unwarranted.

Negativity impacts families, communities, institutions and workplaces. Leaders see the results firsthand, regardless of whether they recognize the causes. Turnover rises, projects fail to hit their goals, and productivity falls short of expectations. Leaders receive poor financial reports or drops in market share. Studies confirm the American economy suffers financially each year, to the tune of $300 billion, when corporate cultures turn negative.

Leaders miss negativity issues unless they’re close to day-to-day operations. They fail to appreciate the drain negativity causes—and when they finally take notice, they often implement the wrong remedies. This response cascade is guaranteed to make matters worse.

The Power of Positivity

The most powerful truths are often the simplest. Just as negativity causes myriad organizational troubles, positivity has the opposite effect. Logic tells us that a positive approach has to be better than a negative one. We glean this from our experiences and the common sense we’ve acquired. Evaluations of corporate performance and culture affirm that positivity is a powerful, yet often overlooked, force that can determine whether an organization will thrive or take a dive.

Over the years, studies of corporate performance reveal that a positive culture:

  • Inspires people to have better ideas and find better solutions
  • Yields more realistic visions and more feasible plans to attain them
  • Inspires higher levels of employee engagement, initiative and productivity
  • Sees more projects succeed and goals reached
  • Does better at overcoming adversity and building unity
  • Boosts levels of employee hope and security
  • Outperforms competitors with negative cultures (and takes their market share)
  • Is more innovative and quicker to market with new products
  • Experiences improved communication and collaboration
  • Has more employees committed to success

A positive culture clearly drives performance, which translates into greater prosperity for everyone. Only when leaders embrace this concept can they make cultural changes that profoundly benefit their organizations.

Culture is established by only one person: the leader. You cannot rely on other people or circumstances to set your workplace tone. You need to determine, initiate, maintain and enhance your organizational culture using your character and leadership traits as primary tools.

Many leaders dismiss positivity as a simplistic notion, but it’s one of the most fundamentally powerful tools in their arsenal—and it costs you nothing. Nonetheless, many intransigent leaders refuse to take the first critical step toward experiencing all the benefits of a positively empowered company.

Making the Crucial Decisions

Leaders fashion a positive culture by first seeing a need for improvement. A qualified leadership coach can help spot the telltale signs of negativity. Once problem areas are recognized, it’s time to take the next crucial step: making the decision to do something.

Positive results require a positive approach. Leaders must decide that positivity will be the charter for the company and that conscious changes will be well worth the effort. Life is difficult and negative enough, notes leadership consultant Jon Gordon in The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World(Wiley, 2017). The only true remedy is to be positive.

But Gordon realizes that simple positivity is insufficient. Being positive while also being effective is the perfect combination to overcome negativity’s obstacles. Effectiveness is the blending of reality with a better mindset. One must see things for what they are and implement potent methods to turn around problems.

Leaders must also adopt a positive character—not a superficial positivity, but a genuinely encouraging mindset and determination to see the good in things (and pursue and accentuate them to create a better reality for all).

So, exactly what do these positive leaders look like?

For some, it may mean stepping out of their comfort zone. Those historically influenced by negative environments and people may find themselves overtaken by pessimism and a critical nature. Their challenge: to reject this pervasive mindset and set a new course—one that may feel foreign at first. It may be necessary to start fresh. Leadership coaches specialize in empowering their clients to effect positive changes.

Leaders, however, cannot succeed without a fundamental desire to overcome obstacles and create an environment that inspires positivity in those around them. As Gordon instructs: Develop a passion to be the best at what you do and be a winner. Motivating your organization with that philosophy will start to change the culture. Your winning attitude requires personal investment, for you and your team. With your determination and optimism, the environment will transform. Making these important decisions sets the leader in motion to influence the mindsets around them, to lead the way, and pursue a positive path forward.

Enhancing Your Character

When leaders have a more positive character, their thoughts, behavior, instincts and responses are more receptive to organizational needs. They see a brighter future in which problems become opportunities.

Start building positivity by working to overcome your own negativity, Gordon advises. Reject negative behaviors like complaining, gossip, selfishness, apathy and untruthfulness. By placing a higher value on integrity, honor, service to others, caring and truthfulness, you’ll push negative elements aside, where they belong. You’ll enjoy greater satisfaction and experience personal and professional benefits. The more you practice positivity, the more natural it will become—and the less desirable your old ways will seem.

A positive mindset eliminates the need for ego or pride. Fulfillment comes from the joy of positivity and self-worth. The pursuit of excellence with your employees fosters the enjoyment that negativity blocks.

Minimizing the negative influences around you also increases your ability to transition to positivity, while simultaneously reshaping the culture. Your employees will experience their own character shifts when leadership no longer tolerates negative behavior. Negative people around you become uncomfortable when behaviors and comments are met with disapproval. Your encouragement makes positivity more appealing to them.

Direct reports support and appreciate leaders whose positive character inspires transformation. As people choose to follow you, your care for them will grow, as will your spirit of service.

By diligently building a more positive character, followed by persistence in pursuing it, you and your people will ultimately refuse to live any other way.

Leading by Positive Example

An organization’s culture is an extension of its leader’s philosophy. Leaders need to let people feel their walk, sense their mindset and be compelled to follow it, Gordon says. This sets the positivity example. Put it out there for all to experience and get used to. Gathering employees to inspire a culture shift has benefits, but nothing influences a following like living positively and loving it. People seeing how their coworkers’ lives have improved is the most powerful teaching tool you have.

If your culture encourages acceptance and discourages disinterest, positivity becomes the norm. As with leaders, once people taste the benefits and rewards of a positive mentality, they will buy in. They’ll set their own examples and encourage each other to do the same. They may even correct each other with reminders, taking their cue from you. They understand that you’ve established the goal of working positivity into every operational aspect.

The transition may be slow. Backsliding may occur after frustrations or crises arise. Your coach can help you maintain your focus and hold you accountable. Good outcomes are great motivators when positive approaches are used. Rely on this, especially in tough times.

Sometimes the example set by positive leaders requires difficult decisions that protect the organization from negative influences. Ineffective products or services may need to be discontinued. Negative, damage-inflicting clients may need to be dismissed. Stricter policies may need to be put in place to deal with conflict or detrimental behavior. Toxic employees deserve the chance to be converted to positivity with the appropriate oversight and counseling. If they choose to remain negative, they may need to be replaced.

Your passion for positivity gives you several hats to wear: role model, cheerleader, guardian, coach, enforcer and rewarder.

Building on a Firm Foundation

Great leaders expand their efforts to solidify a collective perspective and build upon the culture they’ve initiated. They continue to battle negativity and reinforce the expectation of a positive workplace. They promote one spirit: one united front to raise the bar.

A solid, positive culture is undergirded by trust. You earn trust by caring about your people and developing relationships with them. Make this happen by:

  • Listening to them and providing for their needs. Applying active-listening skills helps people feel valued, which improves positivity.
  • Encouraging and inspiring your people to think, respond and apply themselves positively.
  • Communicating about everything. Give people information, and let them in on the plans to fulfill your vision. Let them feel worthy of being included in what’s going on in the organization.
  • Getting to know your people, their interests, their lives and aspirations. Let them know who you are by sharing the same. This offers a sense of family and unity, which prompts a positive feeling about the workplace.
  • Trusting people to make more decisions and be ambassadors of positivity. Letting your people take ownership of their culture strengthens it.
  • Inviting people into problem-solving activities and allowing them to inject their expertise to make a difference. Celebrating positive outcomes also reinforces a positive mindset.
  • Providing coaching and mentoring resources to help your people gain skills and become more valuable contributors.
  • Creating a safe environment through transparency and security, where politics, favoritism and deception are rejected. People’s fear and anxiety will be minimized.

In a community of trust, people know each other well enough to think the best of their coworkers, instead of criticizing or grumbling. If your employees sense a greater optimism, your clients and customers will follow suit. Positivity is visible, indicating that a good fundamental culture is at work. Companies that exude positivity draw customers because they know their needs will be met. Your people and your operation thereby prosper.