Building Your Bench

I have been hearing for years (at least in the nonprofit sector) about the impending leadership crisis . . . that there simply aren’t enough potential/emerging leaders willing to step into senior leadership roles. And it’s not just hearsay. I recently led a 9-month nonprofit leadership academy, and two of the individuals who went through the program said their biggest takeaway from the experience was that they did not think leading a non-profit was the right fit for them. (And far better that they recognize the mismatch now, rather than after they accepted an ED/CEO role).

If you are a leader of an organization lacking in leadership bench strength, maybe you need to consider if you are contributing to the hesitance of “star performers” to move into senior leadership roles.

• Are you working crazy hours that would prompt those looking for life balance to look at the way you are carrying out the role and say “No thanks?”

I have always encouraged my staff to arrange their schedules so they could go to their kids’ ballgames or recitals, take time away when they need it, stay home if they were feeling poorly . . . and I thought that was enough, until one of my team members pointed out that if people did not see me doing the same, they would not think it was okay, regardless of what I said. What are your actions telling your people about what it “really takes” to do the job? And for those of you who are thinking, well it takes long hours to get the job done, please refer to the following bullet.

• Are you delegating tasks that give people a chance to gain experience and confidence in their ability to lead?

No, they will probably not do it exactly like you would, and yes, it will likely take longer and they may make a few missteps along the way. And it is figuring out how to deal with things that don’t go as planned, or how to handle a potentially sticky situation that allows people to gain the experience to do it better the next time. If you expect their initial effort to match your current performance (after years of practice) you will be disappointed . . . and your leadership bench will remain sparsely populated.

• Do you give your people the latitude to create leadership roles that play to their strengths?

Just because you have certain responsibilities in your job description doesn’t mean that those same things have to be included in the roles of emerging leaders. Sure, everyone has parts of their job that are less enjoyable than others. However, if there are critical tasks that don’t play to one person’s strengths, but might to another, are you willing to consider a different way of getting the job done? Are you willing to give your emerging leaders a voice in what their future leadership roles might look like? That usually means you have to open the door by asking.

As a senior leader, one of your key responsibilities should be building your leadership bench strength. If that bench is looking a bit thin, the best place to change things up probably starts with you. 

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