Developing effective leaders is a journey that begins as soon as a company is born—and continues at every stage of the business lifecycle. And the sooner you add leadership training and development to your business plan, the better.
“The quality of an organization’s performance cannot exceed the quality of its leadership,” according to James Farr, Ph.D., founder of Truist Leadership Institute. That’s why your Truist relationship manager may leverage the resources of Truist Leadership Institute at various points in the business lifecycle.
Farr’s psychology-based approach has helped the institute develop and inspire dynamic leaders for more than six decades. Here are some of the leadership development strategies that Truist Leadership Institute’s team recommends for businesses in every stage—early, growth, established, and transition.
The early days of a business are an exhilarating—and potentially stressful—time. You’re working hard to get your business off the ground and are probably more focused on day-to-day operations than leadership development. But implementing a few strategies now can prove to be a huge advantage in later stages.
Make time to focus on you.
Block out time on your calendar each week—even an hour can make an impact—to work on strengthening your leadership habits. That can take many forms.
One easy approach is connecting with other industry leaders who can share their insights. Your Truist relationship manager can put you in touch with industry experts who can provide valuable advice.
Another approach? Read one leadership article or resource each morning before opening your email. Truist Leadership Institute’s programs and publications are a great place to turn. For example, in “For Astute Leaders: 4 Skills to Level Up Your Leadership,” research by Sarah Coley, Ph.D., explains the best skills to create a better culture.Disclosure 1
4 leadership skills to think about now:
Begin defining your company’s culture.
“Leadership is about creating an environment where people are inspired to do great work,” says Will Sutton, president and director of Truist Leadership Institute.
These days, it takes more than a generous paycheck and benefits to recruit and retain top talent. Today’s workers place a premium on positive company culture. In fact, they seek out values-driven employers, greater inclusivity, and better advancement opportunities. So, it’s never too early to start thinking about your company culture. Define your purpose now and make sure everything you do supports that purpose.
“Leadership is about creating an environment where people are inspired to do great work.”
President and Director, Truist Leadership Institute
After all, your company culture will play an important role in getting you to the next stage. “To get from ‘It’s just me’ or ‘It’s just me and a few people’ to ‘I want to really accelerate that growth curve,’ you have to have leadership and culture to make that happen,” says Cheryl Flink, director of research at Truist Leadership Institute.
For insights on creating a purpose-driven company, download the Truist Purple PaperSM “Why we work: What happens when you connect people and purpose.”
As your business grows and you begin to hire more staff, keep your team members’ leadership development top of mind. Making sure your new hires know they have a clear path for development can help keep them loyal for the long haul.
Start leadership development sooner.
Flink says research shows that employees typically don’t receive leadership development until they’re 10 years into their careers. “By then, they have lots of bad habits, or perhaps suboptimal habits,” says Flink. “And that can begin to impact the company’s ability to grow, to leverage its teams, and to be resilient as an organization.”
To guard against such a situation, put a clear leadership development plan in place and use it as a recruitment strategy to attract future leaders as you grow your team. Knowing they’ll have a road map for success could seal the deal for potential new hires—at any level.
“Some leadership development models will say, ‘Strategic thinking belongs with executives,’” says Flink. “But first-time managers need to think strategically, too.” For example, while the executive may be the one making a strategic bet, a manager needs to understand how to implement that strategy. “So, all along the way, you need to be developing that capacity,” says Flink.
Delegate to turn people managers into decision makers.
As your business grows, it’s time to start relying on your team members more, particularly if you’ve been heavily involved in the day-to-day processes (not just the high-level planning). Delegation can be challenging, but it also can be a relief for you—and a growth opportunity for your managers. When done effectively, it creates a level of ownership for employees at all levels, which can set them up for success in future leadership roles.
According to research by McKinsey & Company, your middle managers are an important group to focus on when it comes to leadership development. Their study found that organizations with strong middle managers actually perform better financially.Disclosure 2 But for middle managers to perform their best, McKinsey says you need to make sure they:
- Have clear expectations
- Are given targeted training
- Understand why their actions matter
- See inspiring leaders behaving similarly
- Have support systems in place (such as structure, role design, and rewards)
Keep these factors in mind as you create your leadership development program.
With your company established, turn a greater focus on retaining your best employees. Implementing talent optimization strategies can help you better allot resources, maintain a healthy and skilled workforce, and emphasize employee talents to reach or exceed company goals.
Develop executive connectedness.
Executive connectedness may not be in your company’s lexicon—but it’s an important differentiator when it comes to recruiting, retaining, and supporting top talent. Basically, executive connectedness is a measurement of how employees feel about an executive’s trustworthiness, caring, and communication. Research by Truist Leadership Institute found that when employees feel connected to executives, they’re 30% more engaged at work and 26% more likely to stay.Disclosure 3
“From interviewing to onboarding to ongoing management, all these processes need to be efficient and equitable, but they can’t be absent human connection,” says Jenni Marsh, director of consulting at Truist Leadership Institute. Marsh adds that one way to prioritize connectedness is to set aside time to touch base with individual employees regularly.
“I have a relatively new teammate, and I’ll sit with her sometimes and ask questions,” says Marsh. “‘What are you surprised about? What are you more excited about than you thought you might be?’ These open questions help me gauge how it feels to be her, so I can identify the best ways to support her. And I think that’s a great practice, whether it’s three months or 15 years in.”
Balance the needs of old and new team members with a mentorship program.
One key to retaining top employees these days: recognizing and meeting their need for flexibility. Hybrid work situations have become the norm for many positions—and few employees are willing to give that up once they’ve tried it. Longtime employees may have no trouble doing their job at home, but a new hire may need more in-person mentoring. So, how do you balance that desire for flexibility with the need for successful onboarding and training?
Implementing a mentorship program that pairs an experienced employee with a new hire can be a smart solution. Ensure both employees have opportunities to meet and exchange ideas in person, virtually, or both.
“When new and experienced employees are able to connect, it provides a real opportunity for growth for the newer person,” says Sutton.
When the time comes to make a change—whether you’re merging, selling, or passing your business on to the next generation—you’ll feel more confident in your decision if you’ve been focusing on leadership development at every stage. There are also a few things you can do to ensure a smoother transition.
Prepare the next generation of leaders.
The preparation for this step really begins long before a transition is on the horizon. Every step you’ve taken up to this point should help you put a leadership team in place that you trust to take over the reins when it’s time.
Sending key players to official leadership training programs is a good start. Another layer involves gradually providing your executive team access to your “why” in decision making, followed by greater responsibility and autonomy.
Also keep in mind that family members may benefit from guidance that speaks to their unique needs and challenges. For example, the new TORCH Leadership Development Experience from Truist Leadership Institute provides sessions on leadership dynamics, business-growth strategies, company culture, team engagement, self-awareness, and more—all customized for a small cohort of individuals who have recently taken on a leadership role in their family business or who plan to do so within the next three years.
Assemble your brain trust—well in advance.
When transition does happen, it’s important to have a trusted team of advisors who can help smooth the way before, during, and after. Inviting your senior leaders to the table—and introducing them to your transition advisors—early in the process is a good idea, too. Ensuring that everyone is informed of what’s happening each step of the way is important for maintaining open and honest relationships.
Take leadership beyond transition.
For many owners and executives, one of the hardest parts of stepping back from their business is ensuring they still have valuable work to do after their job as CEO is finished. If that’s true for you, consider how you might use your leadership skills outside the corner office. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Serve on a board—either for a charitable organization, a university, or another company (perhaps one that’s in its early stage and could use your expertise).
- Act as a paid consultant where you can share your insights and knowledge with others.
- Let your relationship manager know that you’re willing to serve as a mentor or as a contact for their other clients in similar industries.
These are just some of the ideas that can help with leadership development at every stage of business. Get more insights and advice for recruiting, engaging, and leading top talent.