I GOT LUCKY early in my career. I worked 19 years for someone who was committed to helping me become a future leader. I wasn't unique. He provided leadership development opportunities to everyone who would take it, and he taught me to do the same. Building new IT leaders who can achieve operational excellence is the reason I founded Sea-Level Operations in 2010.
Through our work with nearly 400 companies since then, Sea-Level Operations has developed the following tenets for successfully coaching future leaders:
Start building leaders now. When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago! When is the second-best time? Today! The same holds true for building your leaders. If you’re not instilling staff with some leadership skills now, your company is at least two or three years away from achieving any new growth.
Let go of the seat. When you are teaching a child to ride a bicycle, you help them balance and keep them safe by having them wear a helmet and elbow pads. Eventually, however, you must have the courage to let go of the seat and let them ride by themselves, all the time knowing they are going to crash. When they do, you wipe off the dirt, blood, and tears and do something very hard, but critically important: You summon the courage to let go of the seat again. This scenario needs to play itself out over and over at all levels within your company.
Build a "one hand up and one hand down" culture. Everyone needs to be teaching something to someone (one hand down) and be learning something from someone (one hand up) EVERY DAY.
Recognize that your company is going to go through maturity growth stages. Management roles and how tasks are performed need to be redefined before you can move into the next growth stage. For example, when you have fewer than 10 employees, the same person likely does proposals, purchasing, and engineer scheduling—and probably can effectively keep a lot of information in his or her head. When you grow to 20 employees, though, you will likely have one individual for each of these three tasks. Therefore, you need to develop and implement new methods and processes now, before you get to that point, so these potential leaders can function as a productive team. While it seems counterintuitive, because you may not feel like you need all the extra steps in the process currently, you cannot grow to the next level unless you start operating as if you are already at the next level.
Leaders are readers. As soon as you think someone might be a candidate for a future leadership position in your company, give him or her a homework assignment to read the E-Myth by Michael Gerber. Schedule a standard recurring time each week to discuss the chapters read and what he or she has learned; be sure to take time to articulate the concepts you need them to understand. Repeat this with books like Traction, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, etc. This will pay big dividends.
Get outside coaching and support for your leaders. New managers are like teens, who often don’t take direction well from a parent (AKA the boss), but they will from a coach, consultant, academy, conference, or peer group. We have found that the leaders we are coaching are far more effective when they make time to get away from the tyranny of the day-to-day craziness to focus “on the business” with guided leadership. One of our clients once told us that his goal is to get a peer group and a coach for each person on his leadership team. A great goal!
If you take these tenets to heart, you will be able to watch your employees, revenues, and profits grow!
REX FRANK is founder and CEO of Sea-Level Operations, an MSP coaching and consulting firm.