With the election season in full swing and the country witnessing a few debates, many Americans are questioning exactly what makes a good leader. The answers you hear likely will be slightly different based on which side of the political fence you sit; but when it comes to business leaders, the answers are even more varied.
Some will cite honesty as a key leadership trait. Others look for creativity or transparency. And then there are those who lean toward humility. While it’s difficult to argue against the importance of any of these qualities, based on my 16 years of experience, I believe the most critical leadership skill is the ability to cultivate talent. In addition to surrounding yourself with individuals who can contribute fresh ideas and complementary skills, our economy depends on those who currently are in leadership positions helping to develop the next generation of leaders.
Talent development can be a casual relationship with someone who is interested in a similar field or position or a more formal mentor/mentee relationship. The leaders who made themselves available to me are in part responsible for helping me grow and accelerate my own career. I try to do the same for my own team members, because the benefits for me are just as significant. Here are a few benefits I’ve noticed:
A change in your perspective: When you commit to cultivating the talent of others, you get a chance to see yourself through the eyes of someone else. Don’t make feedback a one-way street. Ask for the other person’s opinion and offer opportunities for someone to share thoughts on how you, as a leader, excel and where you could benefit from growth.
A boost to your confidence: Guiding your direct reports through trying times or difficult situations can help you learn to trust your own advice and make faster, better business decisions. People also are likely to share how you’ve helped them with an issue, which can improve your credibility with other team members.
Improvement to your underdeveloped skills: Being a strong leader doesn’t mean you’re good at everything. Most often, it means you’ve honed a specific set of skills and learned how to delegate other tasks. When you make a conscious effort to nurture the skills of others, it’s likely you’ll learn something along the way.
I’m a huge advocate of lifelong learning. Often, that can mean opening your eyes to the people, experiences and opportunities around you. If you’re looking for assistance, there are many organizations in West Michigan that can help you hone your talent development and leadership skills.
The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Community Leadership offers a variety of programs that explore and reveal your team’s individual and collective talents. Current and future members can attend leadership and community events and programs throughout the year.
Grand Valley State University’s Center for Leadership offers practical, effective and flexible programs that help you master the skills and behaviors of highly effective leaders, build collaboration and ensure strong leadership succession.
If you’re looking to play a more traditional mentor or mentee role, SCORE Grand Rapids provides free mentoring resources for small businesses and allows you to connect with mentors who have specific areas of expertise.
Whatever your goal, nurturing the talent of others just might be the hidden key to long-term success.
Michelle Pluskota is the vice president of business services for Comcast Business’ Heartland region.