Companies are starting to finalize their long-term work plans, with many choosing to stay remote for the foreseeable future.
The flexible, remote work option will be welcomed by many, but there is also concern about how companies will encourage and cultivate the next generation of leaders within their ranks. How do you ensure remote workers are receiving the same opportunities?
It goes without saying that it’s fundamentally important to encourage new generations of leaders within organizations. To be successful, we need to look at our team members and tailor a custom approach to each that fits their unique situation. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone, but some core ideas should be kept in mind.
When mentoring, ensure your future leaders have a great internal (and external) company network that can help them grow. It’s important to introduce younger employees to company leaders, peers in other functions, potential supporters within the company, and relevant leadership groups or organizations outside the company. This will help them to build a network that can support and encourage them during their leadership journey.
Not everyone is outgoing and comfortable in a networking situation, so it’s important to work with them on how to best operate in these environments. I have found that having younger employees shadow you as you attend meetings or events, which in the Zoom era means adding them to the call and just introducing them at the start, can help a lot.
But be patient. It may take some people more time than others to get comfortable.
When I assign projects to my team members, I look for opportunities to allow them to take control of the project. I want to ensure that I don’t just give them tasks to complete but fully delegate authority and autonomy. Providing this level of control encourages them to be the ones that are interacting with others, not just having those interactions mediated by another team leader. Delegating complete control of the project helps foster valuable leadership skills by having them own the engagement.
That said, don’t just delegate and leave them alone. Check-in with them, check-in with those they are working with, brainstorm ideas behind the scenes, but let them shine in the spotlight.
Be deliberate in your delegation and ensure you are finding the right person for the opportunity, no matter where they are located. The move to working from home has in some ways helped make it easier to ignore location and really focus on skills and ability. It’s easier to avoid the trap of assigning projects to the team members you see every day, and instead spread out opportunities evenly.
Battling Imposter Syndrome
As people grow in their positions, there is a need to build their confidence and self-assurance. Everyone has doubts at times. I have seen this in men and women, in older, more experienced workers and junior workers. It’s only natural for people to have insecurities, and they will sometimes wonder—Did I do the best job possible?
And, with remote work, they may not be getting the feedback they need to see the value they are bringing to the team and the company. Take the time to highlight the value they bring and emphasize how their skills are differentiated within the company. A leader does not develop in a vacuum but with clear and consistent feedback on how they are doing and what they can consider changing.
Building your future leaders’ goals should be an iterative process, built upon what they see, but also what you hear from those they work with. While it is important to share the critical feedback, this should not be the bulk of your conversations. Instead, focus on what is going well, where they are thriving, and how to bring that energy into areas that are not going as well. By helping them develop their strategic vision, they can have their own goals and they can take ownership over their path. This ownership can also build confidence.
Building confidence can take time and requires continued discussion and reinforcement.
Build Plans, But Be Flexible
It’s easy for people to stagnate at work. They complete a task or project, and simply move on to the next. But this is an obstacle to becoming a company leader. Instead, you need strategic vision and a firm, but flexible, plan that identifies an end goal and steps along the way to get there.
Now, what do I mean by a firm, but flexible, plan? I mean a plan that identified a specific path to your end goal but offers flexibility so you can pivot when challenges arise, or opportunities present themselves. We all run into obstacles that get in the way of progress, and we need to be able to deviate from the path to keep moving forward. As a mentor, you should help mentees navigate through these issues, helping to advise when they should change course.
If we can instill this focus and flexibility in the next generation of leaders, they will be prepared to tackle obstacles that arise.
Showcase Future Leaders
I think it’s essential to help showcase your potential team member’s leadership skills to decision-makers within the company. It’s not just about showing that they can do the work or helping them get to know others but helping them find tangible strategic projects for the company and highlighting those projects to others. By allowing them to showcase their abilities, you provide them with valuable exposure.
One way to highlight projects and contributors is to run a “road show,” and present the work to various leadership teams, showing where the project is today and how it is helping the company. This will provide an opportunity to highlight how the contributors are thinking strategically, with the company’s goals in mind. If you do something successful, it is important to share it with others who may be able to learn lessons from the work done.
A Note on Connection
As remote work continues to be the standard for many companies where this way of working is possible, it’s crucial to consciously include everyone in the community. There has been a lot written recently about remote employees feeling less connected to team members they haven’t met in person.
To combat this, look for times to connect as a team outside of strictly scheduled meetings. Learn about each other and encourage discussions that are not necessarily project/work driven.
The past year and a half has presented a lot of management challenges, including figuring out how to best cultivate leaders in a remote environment. If you are conscious and deliberate about providing opportunities to future leaders, you will have success. Remember, there will be trial and error as we adjust, but companies will adapt.
Leadership is about more than just doing the work. Leadership is about anticipating the company’s needs, building up those around you, being more than just an individual contributor, and being more than just a manager of people. It is about helping the company, and all those around you, meet their full potential.
About the Author:
Karna J. Nisewaner, Vice President & Deputy General Counsel at Cadence Design Systems