mentor-2062999_1920One of John Maxwell’s law of leadership is called the Law of the Lid. According to Maxwell, “Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness.”  In other words, the leader cannot surpass his or her own ability to lead. By extension, the skills of persons reporting to a leader rarely exceed the leader’s capability to lead either because they are not developed adequately or persons do not feel safe demonstrating their true skills in the presence of their leaders. Unfortunately, when a leader has achieved their lid and others on the team are capable of more, they will become frustrated and disengaged.

When the law of the lid is active, leaders who are limited by their respective lids and tough on themselves don’t always see their direct reports as they really are. Their negative biases cloud their judgement, as a result, they may be too tough or lenient.

As a leader, it is important to learn to perceive the strengths in others and position these strengths more prominently than their weaknesses. If you can train yourself to view your team this way you can begin to predispose yourself to more effectively developing your direct reports. As a leader who is developing your team you can take different learning styles and learning curves into consideration.  As with leadership, learning should be customized to ensure learners are given the best possible chance to understand and apply the new information.

If a leader focuses on the faults of his / her direct reports, it is probable that development plans will focus the training on these faults. So it is important to take a balanced approach to developing your team, especially top performers. While some of their weaknesses can be addressed, the plan should be balanced ensuring their strengths are adequately developed.

A strengths focus is more appropriate when foundational knowledge, skills and abilities are already in place. If there is a lack of foundational learning and development, the first step is to ensure baseline technical and behavioral skills meet the minimum standard for the level of performance defined in the job description.

Once the foundation is in place, the next level of development is to fine-tune a person’s priority areas of strength. The third level is mastery. The mastery level is the level at which persons are now working toward mastering selected skills and abilities. They are already strong performers and can be developed to achieve expert status.

Dr. Anders Erricson’s research on expertise he arguably) states that it take 10,000 hours of deliberate practice of a skill to become an expert.  From my perspective, it really depends on the quality of that practice.  The question to ask when you are planning to develop others to become experts is are they doing the same thing over and over for 10,000 hours with little to no variation, or is there evidence of their growth over that period of time? Is the employee exploring new ways of perceiving, doing, executing and interpreting what they are doing?

In order to develop others effectively, it takes more than a career coaching conversation once per year. Leaders should check in with direct reports from time-to-time to understand how the developmental plan is progressing, making recalibrations as needed.  This means you can make the learning opportunities more difficult or change them completely, if necessary.

Career coaching works best when you show you care about your employees’ development, not only during the coaching conversation, it should be backed up by allowing them the time to complete coursework, take exams  and work on interesting projects that align with their aspirations. This mean you need to get to know each person and establish intimate knowledge about their aspirations, skills and internal drivers, which include their values.

As a leader it is important to focus your quality time on training and developing others for numerous reasons.  The obvious reasons are that this line of action improves engagement and performance. However developing others can lead to innovation, sustainability of the business for the long-term and it frees up your time so you can grow as a leader, but most importantly, it shows your direct reports that you value them.

Developing others requires taking time with your team members. As a leader, if you have the right team, you will spend more time in developmental mode at the initial stages, but when the team has passed the foundational developmental stage, and learning and development continues to be a priority, the collective performance and capacity of the team should continuously improve.

In today’s workplace where time to train is constantly a challenge. A one size fits all approach does not work. Therefore, organizations should provide employees with opportunities to learn using a blended model that facilitates various forms of learning and development: There are multiple tools you can use to achieve this:

  1. Training (Both online and classroom) One method is through just-in-time learning where the organization delivers information when it is needed. Another method is micro-learning where learning happens in short bursts.
  2. Mentoring
  3. Coaching
  4. Cross training – This is a form of on-the-job training that upskills employees, allowing them to achieve their career aspirations while allowing the organization the flexibility to develop employees to provide relief when an incumbent is unable to perform his/her duties. This is one area where micro-learning can happen.
  5. Books, CDs, DVDs, and simulations can also be used
  6. Social Media – Organizations are using document sharing, discussion groups and blogs to enhance the learning experience.
  7. Stretch projects – These projects are specifically designed to stretch members of your team beyond their respective comfort zones, leading to overall growth of team capacity.
  8. Measuring the effectiveness of your learning interventions is important. At the end of the day, you need to understand if there is return on the learning investment. Therefore goals for changes in performance ought to be clearly established at the outset.

Developing others is no longer an option because of the ever changing external environment.  Jack Welch provides sage advice about developing others saying, “Before you are a leader success is about growing yourself.  When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.  If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.