How to Upskill Leaders to Unlock the Potential in Others
- POSTED ON JUNE 06, 2023
Unlocking potential has become a major theme for organizational and talent leaders. Not only does it release more of the untapped skills and motivation latent within every workforce, but it is a powerful way to engage employees, giving them career growth, personal fulfillment, and a good reason to stay committed to their organization.
Moreover, as organizations today focus on achieving greater equity, unlocking the potential within each individual means creating opportunities for them to thrive, regardless of their background, education, or any barriers they’ve faced due to their identity.
But the act of unlocking potential is not easy, as any human resources or talent professional can attest. People are generally brought into organizations because they have the skills or experience necessary to do a particular role. Any additional skills, experience, or passions are ultimately irrelevant, as long as the individual is capable within the parameters of their immediate role. Their potential to do more, contribute more, or develop additional technical or human skills is rarely identified at interviews, or even beyond.
And often the individuals themselves don’t recognize their real potential, so how are talent and human resources leaders — who have limited one-to-one interactions with employees — meant to identify it?
The key here is managers and leaders: the people who see and assess the capabilities of those in their teams on a daily basis. If organizations want to release more of the potential in their employees, they need to look to their leaders to uncover, nurture, and leverage what’s waiting to emerge. Leaders need support to do this — it’s not a skill they automatically acquired when they moved into management positions. In fact, many leaders receive little to no training in developing others, despite it being a core competency of leadership.
There are three ways organizations can upskill their leaders to unlock the potential in their teams:
Develop Leaders as Coaches
Developing leaders as coaches is a direct and effective way of equipping them to unlock potential. Coaches are trained to help others expand their understanding of what they’re capable of and stretch into these possibilities. When leaders act as coaches, they’re able to help team members challenge self-limiting beliefs, overcome workplace challenges, and take action to achieve more for themselves. Trained coaches use a range of techniques and tools to lead coaching conversations, which are different to typical one-to-ones because they are guided by the coachee and the answers they have within them. Coaching leaders don’t advise, tell, or command — they ask, explore, and challenge — and this approach draws out more from the coachee than any other kind of conversation. This is why more than 33% of organizations are prioritizing strengthening managers’ coaching skills.
Expand emotional and relationship intelligence
Unlocking potential in team members requires a few foundational leadership qualities: the leader has to understand and see the benefit of a relationship-led (rather than task-led) leadership style. This is not to say that task-led leadership doesn’t have a place. But exclusively task-led leaders are unlikely to value developing the potential in others if it serves no immediate purpose. The leader must also be willing to trust and grant their team members autonomy so they can try (and fail at) new things as they explore their growth edges.
These qualities provide the environment for unlocking potential, but the leader still needs to play a role in facilitating change. The skills they need for this are emotional intelligence (being able to identify and manage their emotions and reactions, as well as the emotions and reactions of others) and relationship intelligence (being able to create and maintain healthy, meaningful relationships). They need these skills to guide their team members, to focus on their needs, and to recognize the unspoken signals that indicate what’s needed next on their growth journey. To explore their potential, team members need to feel safe, seen, and encouraged, which is why leaders need to master these human skills to be fully effective at unlocking potential, for everyone in their organization.
“Executives who possess that perceptiveness about the mental state of others can move more easily among various employee groups, make them feel heard, and represent their interests within the organization, to the board of directors, and to outside constituencies. More importantly they can nurture an environment in which diverse talent thrives.”
— Harvard Business Review, The C-Suite Skills That Matter Most, July-August 2022 issue, pg. 47
Support leaders to unlock their own potential
If you were setting out on an expedition into uncharted territory, you’d choose a guide who has been there before. Similarly, leaders who have experienced their own growth journeys are better positioned to support others as they take their first steps. It can be daunting, stepping off your comfortable, well-worn paths and pushing yourself to explore more of what you’re capable of. Growth-oriented leaders who have prioritized their own development are living role-models of what realized potential looks like, and they can help others take that leap.
Well-developed leaders also influence a range of other critical business factors, including culture, engagement, and collaboration, especially when the areas they’ve developed are related to their human skills.
It’s possible to help leaders unlock their potential through coaching or mentoring. Many organizations now employ executive coaches to support their leaders on a range of personal and professional topics, including managing their impact. It’s also possible to find leadership development programs that focus on expanding leadership capacity at a holistic level. These programs are designed to unlock leadership potential and hone the human skills that help leaders grow.
By upskilling leaders to unlock the potential in their teams, organizations create a self-sustaining talent development framework that helps everyone achieve more. Investing in people at all levels, and, moreover, investing in their long-term personal and career growth, brings its own rewards: well-developed and upskilled employees, talent mobility, and a workforce that isn’t focused on what it can achieve today but what it can achieve tomorrow.