Finding Meaningful Development Opportunities for Others

July 12, 2015
Mary Jo Asmus

There are some myths about what it means for leaders to develop the people they’re responsible for leading. A few of them:

  • Developing others doesn’t belong to Human Resources, Talent Management, Organizational Development, or whatever other helpful organization you may have access to, although they can help. Let’s be clear that developing others is your job.
  • Developing people doesn’t have to cost oodles of money. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost anything but your time and your effort; and you might just find a great deal of satisfaction helping others to grow and learn.
  • Meaningful development isn’t only about delegating work to others. Delegating is important, but it’s what you delegate and how you do it that can make it a growth opportunity.

Don’t wait for someone to come to you and ask to be developed. Don’t tell them to think about what they’d like to do as a development opportunity; that’s pretty scary and they may not be comfortable throwing out ideas that will get shot down because of cost or fit within the organization.

Be intentional about your efforts to find meaningful development opportunities for others.

Be an equal opportunity developer: Everyone who wants to grow and develop should have the opportunity. This doesn’t mean that everyone should get the exact same opportunity. Some people will be ready to do something spectacular; others may be more comfortable with opportunities that come in baby steps. Honor their place in life at this moment and understand that not everyone will be ready to become the next CEO.

Ask them what they want: What are their future goals? If you don’t know, ask them. For some, it might be to get better at their current job. For others, it might be to have your job, or the next one, or the one beyond that. Some may want to be in training to work somewhere else. Don’t project your ideas about what’s best for their growth on them. Be honest with them in terms of what they think their next step is and how you might be able to help.

Find ways to stretch them: This is the part where developing others isn’t just about delegating your grunt work to them and calling it a developmental opportunity. You might have to think more broadly. Is there an assignment in another business unit that might fit the bill? What about a cross-functional team for them to contribute to? How about a local board in their community to join?

Keep the conversation going: Help them to learn as they take on new things that will stretch them through regular check-ins. Have a regular dialog to ask them what they’re learning. Ask what they enjoy or don’t enjoy about the opportunity you’ve provided for them to develop. It’ll help both of you to get more precise for the next opportunity.

Most leaders find that developing others is fun and meaningful for but very few actually do enough of it. Don’t wait until you’re in a bind and need to declare your successor. Start now.

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Mary Jo Asmus is an executive/leadership coach whose work spans decades of making a difference in the lives of hundreds of executives, leaders and teams in Fortune 500, mid- and small- sized business, governments and nonprofits. She focuses on facilitating individuals and teams from first-line supervisor to the C-suite to create, develop, and influence the relationships that can make them extraordinary.

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