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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, April 09, 2017 1:00 am

Take initiative if worker has leader potential

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Sometimes the best next-up leaders are already on your team.

The problem is, most organizations don't know how to help them transition from being doers to becoming leaders. That's according to an email in late March from Wilson Learning Corp., a global human performance consult with offices in Minneapolis. The issue is crucial, the email said, because of an “impending short supply of internal leadership,” partly due to baby boomers retiring.

There are clear differences between doers and leaders.

Doers tend to get promoted as managers because of their technical skills. But leadership requires shifting from focusing on their own performance to helping others develop, Tom Roth, chief operating officer for Wilson Learning, said in the email. 

Most organizations provide new managers training that focuses on the traditional foundational supervisory topics: setting goals, conducting performance reviews, delegating, coaching and reinforcing, Roth wrote. All of those are necessary, but not sufficient.

People on a team without a sense of purpose or understanding the organization's direction tend to pull back, disconnect or go through the motions. Roth, among other suggestions, offered five critical questions leaders need to make sure employees have answers to.

1. Where are we going? Identify and clarify strategy and goals. 

2. What's expected of me? It's an ongoing communication process on how individuals can contribute. 

3. How am I doing? Frequent feedback and reinforcement helps; people perform better when they know where they stand.

4. What's in it for me? This keeps the rewards for sustained performance improvement within reach.

5. Where do I go for help? When mistakes are made, performance breakthroughs are “waiting to be discovered.”

The questions Roth offers are sound; they also place most of the responsibility on the leader. While leadership requires more, communication can be initiated by anyone, especially employees with the potential to eventually lead. 

If it seems like direction is shifting, employees can ask their team leader for a brief meeting. This could allow an employee to share with managers the goals and directions – as they understand them – and ask whether anything has changed, if priorities have shifted.

Employees who aren't sure they're meeting expectations should ask for feedback – whether something is working or how things can be improved.

If leadership is an employee's calling, taking initiative on the communication can be part of it.

12 leadership tips

Author David Griffin's latest book is less than 40 pages in paperback but covers a range of topics leaders might find make the workplace more amicable. “Leadership: 12 Amazing Ways to Build and Manage The Perfect Team,” released in March, covers topics including:

• How to listen and talk to your team effectively.

• How to be a visible but discreet and supportive team leader.

• How to deal with your team members' personal problems carefully and effectively.

• How to reduce your team's stress levels.

Listening is chapter 1. That may seem the easiest of management skills, but it can be challenge, particularly if leaders lack patience for what seems like constant complaining.

“If someone 'moans' a lot, for instance, instead of tagging him as a disgruntled troublemaker, try to listen to what he or she says; these are often people who have worked in the company for a long time, and have had issues that have not been resolved,” Griffin says in the book. “If this is your case, instead of focusing on the recent causes of discontentment, do try to understand their root causes.”

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at