News Dec 30th 2016

How to guide your employees to develop leadership skills


Japanese companies are often lauded as the very model of efficiency and productivity. Yet there is a surprising conclusion to be drawn when one conducts a close examination of the way in which companies in different countries treat their staff and how they encourage their growth. The conclusion is that many Japanese executives fail to live up to their potential, because they are not encouraged to develop their abilities by gaining experience in a number of companies and fields. Instead, they are expected to follow a clear career path within the same company, rising steadily and patiently through the ranks until they reach the top. Promotion comes from length of service, not through suitability and appropriate experience.

The disadvantage of this approach is that it can make it much harder for suitable candidates to be found to fill top jobs, because they have not gained the wide range of experience that will enable them to take on those responsibilities. The potential of many executives is being wasted owing to this failure to help people grow and acquire ample experience and skills. For example, one large Tokyo-based company with a varied global portfolio was unable to identify a suitable candidate to succeed its CEO. In spite of its extensive business interests, the company had restricted its senior managers to working in only one line of the business, meaning that they lacked the experience needed to diversify. Nor did they have the English-language skills needed to flourish in the global business world.

The lesson to be learned from examples like this is that good leadership involves continued learning and growth. This should be done by gradually assuming more complex and challenging projects. Such a strategy will enable staff to increasingly stretch themselves and acquire new skills with each project, rather than stagnating. Japanese executives begin their careers with a huge amount of potential, encouraged by the country's educational system and work ethic. Indeed, this potential tends to be greater than in many other countries, but is wasted by the failure to encourage growth in people over the course of their careers.

Companies in other countries often take a very different approach, and make efforts to identify staff with considerable potential. These individuals will then be given promotions that allow them to embark upon new challenges, rather than simply assuming the same tasks on a greater scale. They may place these candidates in a completely new sector, market or situation, ensuring that the candidates acquire the new skills and experience that will make them better leaders.

With today's business world revolving around international markets, and the economic potential that arises from functioning in a global market, an employee who is exposed to this international world will be able to develop their potential accordingly. If they are exposed to a wide range of different roles, they will bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to benefit the company. This will allow the company to reach new markets and expand into the global possibilities.

Although not all companies function on this global scale, there is still much to be learned from this pragmatic and sensible approach. If you want to grow as a leader, or encourage those working with you to reach their potential, then look for ways to allow them to grow. Assign them projects that will challenge them and allow them to expand their skills and experience. Don't let them stagnate or waste their potential on projects that are too easy. Look for those people who have it in them to go a long way, and encourage everyone to develop to the best of their abilities.

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