This is the 7th principle of military leadership that we are examining for its general applicability in business and organizational life.

You have to assume that everyone in your team or organization has the potential to be a leader, until they prove the contrary. This is because everyone wants a challenge in their work and career. Often, though not always, this means they want to assume greater responsibilities, and this can require supervisory functions, planning the work of others and giving them direction, and interacting with peers, superiors, clients, etc. All of these require leadership, even if not in a formal manner.

There are three main things to develop leadership potential of your followers. The first is to provide the best example possible, to be a role model for them, as well as your peers and superiors. When you give the example yourself, you set the ethical, behavioural, and professional standards for your team and the wider organization. This gives your followers something to aim for in their own performance. The second approach to develop your followers’ leadership potential is to provide them with developmental opportunities. Even if they don’t formally have responsibilities, you can give them additional tasks such as leading a small team on a project, gaining buy in from a group of collaborators or clients or other business partners, preparing a presentation, representing your group in organizational events so they get exposed to a broader environment and see how things work at higher levels of the organization. This also helps them to understand the challenges you face as a leader.

The final approach to developing leadership is to provide formal training, as well as informal mentoring and formal and informal coaching. Formal refers to the fact that the objectives being in line with official organizational goals and are a matter of policy or organizational culture. Informal refers to development that is done in an ad hoc manner according to the needs of the person being developed. Mentoring involves providing support and advice by a more experienced person, often with the approval and involvement of the organization. Coaching is more deliberate and active and aims to develop specific skills in practice, based on observation by a designated expert. A leader can both be a mentor and a coach.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

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