Sharon Black, President of Enterprise Strategic Accounts at Robert Half, shares how to help reluctant leaders discover their full potential.

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Investing in future leaders is a strategic imperative for any business. Sometimes, it includes helping employees to discover their leadership potential — and fully embrace it.

These staff members include reluctant leaders who might be letting a lack of confidence hold them back. Or they might be hesitant to explore leadership development opportunities because they can’t clearly visualize their path to the management level in your organization.

How do you help the reluctant leaders on your team to maximize their potential? By creating a work environment that encourages all employees with leadership aspirations to step up — and importantly, gives them the support to do that confidently.

Here are three ways to help nudge the reluctant leaders in your organization to spread their wings:

  1. Start small and build on successes

Projects can be significant leadership development opportunities. They allow employees to stretch their abilities, gain new skills and build confidence. Depending on the nature of the project, the work can also help raise the employee’s visibility in your department, and even throughout the company.

So, give reluctant leaders assignments with some degree of responsibility to see if they rise to the occasion. If they truly have leadership potential, this is where they’ll begin to prove themselves. And as they succeed, steer them toward increasingly more challenging roles.

  1. Give them a coach and motivator

Mentoring is invaluable as a professional development tool. Your challenge is finding the right person to help guide and nurture a reluctant leader. What would that mentor look like? Perhaps someone who was also once hesitant about moving into a management role and can dispel some myths of what leadership is and isn’t?

Emerging leaders don’t need handholding, but they do need plenty of constructive feedback and encouragement to build and refine their leadership traits. A good mentor is a coach and motivator who inspires their charge to uncover their potential and take smart risks in their career.

  1. Let them explore different directions

Is career progression in your organization mostly linear, with clearly defined intervals and job titles? That may be an issue. Some reluctant leaders may shy away from career development because the prescribed path at your firm doesn’t appeal to them.

Avoid forcing budding leaders through a development program dictated by an organizational chart. Instead, help guide them in a way that helps them strengthen leadership traits and skills they may already have, while also helping them build new abilities and explore different career paths at your firm.

Prioritize your company’s needs, too.

Here’s a final tip: Keep a clear eye toward the future when developing future leaders.

For example, think about which employees could take over for managers who are nearing retirement age or moving on to other roles. Which team members could take the lead in areas where the business plans to grow? And who could help the firm meet new challenges, like spearheading projects involving advanced analytics, cloud services and more?

Your company’s reluctant leaders may be the solution in all of these scenarios. However, be sure to confirm that these employees are, in fact, reluctant leaders — and not just lacking interest or motivation. Not all professionals aspire to become leaders after all, and that’s OK.

As for employees who are interested in becoming future leaders at your firm, move swiftly to connect them with relevant development opportunities. It’s an investment that can deliver outstanding returns for your business by helping to boost employee morale and productivity, enhance retention, and improve your succession planning efforts, all at once.


Sharon Black
President of Enterprise Strategic Accounts, Robert Half

Sharon Black is president of enterprise strategic accounts for Robert Half, overseeing the company’s professional and technology talent solutions operations throughout North America. She directly oversees the management for the North American sales team, three service centers and four recruitment delivery centers. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm and parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm.