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How to Develop Leadership Skills in Employees. Top 5 Ways

Developing leadership skills in employees takes time and patience. Not everyone can be a leader, not everybody wants to be. However, for those on your team who you think have the potential, here are our top 5 ways to develop leadership skills in your employees:

  1. Set by Example
  2. Give Stretch Assignments to Learn New Skills
  3. Delegate Authority
  4. Encourage Continuing Education in Leadership Training
  5. Provide a Mentor

1. Set by Example

You want to develop leadership skills in your employees, but what about your leadership style? Ask yourself, are you a role model? Do you praise in public and criticize in private? Do you assign projects based on the skills of your team members, as opposed to whose available? Do you micromanage or do you let your team fly?

Your employees are taking cues from your behavior, and your example could affect the team culture, and the way your staff acts throughout their careers. For instance, if you are always critical of upper management, then they won’t see a problem criticizing you too. However, if you keep your eye on the company’s vision, and try to keep a balanced perspective on things, they will notice that too.

Here are some ways you can lead by example:

Take Responsibility

If somebody on your team made a mistake, then it’s your mistake too. Step forward and be accountable. Yes, if the problem persists, you will need to have a sit down with that team member, but don’t single this person out to other people in the company. What your team will remember is that you have their backs.

Don’t Exaggerate a Problem

How many times have you seen a problem blow up, because assumptions were made by the person explaining the situation, or the individual in question had a knack for hyperbole? Don’t be that person. Explain what happened in a professional manner, and if there’s still unanswered questions, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I’m still looking into it”. Your team will also appreciate the fact that you stayed cool and calm under fire.

Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid, in the regular course of business, to admit you need help. What you’re really doing is saving time, by not continuing on a course of action that may be fruitless. Better yet, brainstorm with your team on solutions. They’ll appreciate being involved, and one of them may have an idea that can help.


All great leaders have superior communication skills. Not just in what they say and how they say it, but the ability to focus on a speaker and to hear what he or she is really saying. Often these leaders can cut through right to the heart of the matter, by listening to what is being said (or not being said), and the body language of the speaker. Great leaders read the room.

Ask yourself if you are really considering the information being presented, and then monitor how you respond. It can make all the difference in how your team will feel. Rather than being on the defensive, they will be working with you to try and solve the problem.


Remember that your employees need more than a pat on the back, or to be notified when there’s a problem. You need to coach them throughout their entire time in your department. Meet one on one occasionally, even informally, to ask how the workload is going. What challenges are they facing? What would they do differently next time? Don’t look at this as an opportunity to provide solutions for them, ask them to provide their own suggestions first, and then you can talk them through together.

If you work for a larger company, chances are your staff are already on performance plans. But that means meeting maybe twice a year; once to set goals, and one more time to evaluate how it all worked out. Meet more often, biweekly or at least once a month, to see how team members are fulfilling their objectives. Your staff will appreciate it, and there will be less chance of surprises at the end of the year when it comes to review time.

2. Give Stretch Assignments to Learn New Skills

Stretch assignments are assignments that fall outside of one’s current knowledge base or professional skill level. In order to achieve a goal, an employee may have to “stretch” to fill in those gaps. Stretch assignments are typically very uncomfortable for the people who receive them, however the sense of accomplishment upon completion can be greater, for having tried something new and succeeding.

Also, handing out a stretch assignment also lets you see who on your team is up for the challenge, and who is not. It is also a good indicator of those willing to accept and support change, an ability that is definitely needed in leaders.

Let’s use an example. Deborah runs a large creative services department at a national television station. She has eight direct reports, most of them are in different positions with different skill-sets.

One of her junior producers is Tracey. Tracey is great at taking a television program and determining the way it should be promoted, and aligning it with the company’s overall marketing strategy for the channel. However, she has never actually shot a promo using the talent from a tv show, she has always just used show footage.

When assigning the next month’s promotables, Deborah gives Tracey a stretch assignment. She asks her to do a video shoot with the hosts of the channel’s cooking show. Tracey is nervous because although she studied studio shooting in school, she has never actually written a script for talent, or directed them or studio personnel. Deborah convinces her that this would the next logical step in making her way to senior producer someday. This is a stretch assignment.

If it goes well, Deborah should take the time to publicly announce Tracey’s accomplishment, at a meeting, or with an email with a link to the finish promo.

3. Delegate Authority

It’s one thing to hand out assignments regularly, it’s another to delegate authority.

Delegating authority is giving someone the power to act. It says you trust them by handing over something important, that you normally wouldn’t give up. As well, it frees up your time to do what you do best.

Let’s give an example, using Deborah’s department again.

Deborah spends most days running from meeting to meeting, and talking to different department heads about their creative needs. Often, she is so busy that she skips lunch, and works late into the evening. Many times, she has asked herself if there’s someone on her team she can delegate some authority to, to free up her time.

Deborah’s senior producer is Greg. He’s been in the job for two years, is always full of ideas and seems to love his job. He is good at what he does, gets along with his fellow team members, and has a lot of solid ideas.

Deborah decides that Greg could start approving the promos the producers on the team are creating (there are three producers who work specifically on promos). This means Deborah will step back from that responsibility and it will now fall on Greg’s shoulders to approve these producers’ scripts and their final spots. That means Greg is ultimately responsible for the network’s promos that go to air.

Deborah has delegated authority. Maybe, if it works out, she will promote Greg and have the three producers report directly to him. But this is a good testing ground. In addition, the delegation of this responsibility also frees up Deborah’s time. She can concentrate more on the other members of her team, as well as her regular workload. Maybe she can also start going home at 5 o’clock.


4. Encourage Continuing Education in Leadership Training

As part of leadership development, send those employees (that you see leadership capabilities in) back to school for some training. Don’t think small with the occasional one-day class. Think of a course, or a program like an MBA or mini-MBA in leadership.

Your company may already have funds for continuing education, you should take advantage of that.

Here’s the thing. A course or program can be a true measure of an employee’s dedication to the idea of leadership. Taking a course is going to require something valuable of them, and that is time. They are going to need to attend class on evenings or weekends, work on assignments, participate in group work and study for and take tests. One course will take 3 – 4 months, a program will take years. This will really show you who is up for the challenge.

5. Provide a Mentor

Many websites suggest that to develop leadership skills in employees, you become a mentor to them. It may actually be better if you do not mentor members of your own team. Find somebody else at your company, somebody who is established and in a good position (say, director level or above) and ask if this person will mentor someone who you feel has leadership capabilities.

The reason you shouldn’t be the mentor is that you are already dealing with your staff every day. Somebody outside the department will have a more detached view of the employee’s challenges, and be in a better position to offer objective advice. This also means your employee is much more likely to talk freely to this person.


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