Discovering the Leaders on Your Staff

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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Some people just have a natural ability to lead. They speak, and people take notice. When you spot these employees, it’s easy to recognize management potential.

But individuals who fit this mold are few and far between. In most cases, it’s not readily apparent whether a person is destined for a leadership role. So, how can you identify IT professionals who might make good leaders with the right training? And what can you do to bring out their potential?

Think first about the qualities that make up a successful manager:

  • The best leaders don’t simply maintain order they challenge the process, change things and shake up the organization when necessary.
  • They recognize that good ideas can come from anyone on the team.
  • True leaders not only take initiative but also display enough conviction with their proposals that others want to support them.
  • They set the example by being enthusiastic about their own work.

    Recognize the difference, too, between employees who make unique suggestions just for the sake of gaining attention and those who recommend and take calculated risks based on well-thought-out strategies. For example, rather than simply mentioning the idea of switching an entire department from desktop systems to laptops, true leaders will conduct research and make a persuasive case for the transition, noting the specific benefits to employees and the company.

    These individuals may be subtle in their actions, moving quietly ahead with plans or resolving problems without self-promotion. So make sure you’re not zeroing in only on people who generate the most noise in your group.

    Strong candidates should also demonstrate they’re comfortable interacting with staff at any level and help to bring out the best in those around them. You may notice they treat the intern who’s just joined your group with the same respect as you and other executives, for instance. They might also encourage colleagues to move forward with ideas and provide ongoing motivation and support.

    Preparing Future Leaders

    Soft skills are essential. Someone may be an expert with IT issues but lack the ability to share that expertise effectively with diverse groups. You want to identify individuals whose written and verbal communication skills shine.

    Once you’ve identified staff members with leadership potential, the real work begins. To help with their professional development, consider assigning them mentors. Pairing employees with experienced supervisors can help promising candidates gain impartial career advice and enhance their skills and institutional knowledge so they’re better prepared for leadership roles.

    Just be sure you’re selecting the right people to serve as mentors. They must be committed to assisting potential leaders over the long term and have the experience and communication skills to offer meaningful insight.

  • Also make sure you’re giving management candidates plenty of opportunities to acquire strategic abilities and a better understanding of the company’s goals. If that promising senior programmer is allowed to tackle only everyday responsibilities such as writing code and documenting software specifications, you’re not likely to see leadership talents emerge and grow.

    Make an active effort to provide new management-related challenges, such as leading teams, resolving conflicts, or assisting you with reports or budgeting. Testing abilities in small ways will help the person gain confidence and build expertise necessary to advance.

    In addition, you may want to supplement your internal training efforts with courses or seminars. Attending classes often gives participants the chance to practice their skills and receive feedback from others, so they can apply their knowledge to real-world situations. For instance, professionals might receive training on public speaking techniques, followed up by role-plays and group input on techniques learned.

    Grooming internal talent for management positions can offer many benefits in the long run. You’ll ensure you have well-trained individuals in place to fill key openings. At the same time, you’re sending a positive message that your firm cares about its employees and nurturing their potential, which can boost retention rates.

    Just be sure you’re assessing everyone in your group not just your most senior staff and you may uncover some diamonds in the rough.

    Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.