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Table of Contents

Take care of your people and protect your business

Why should you worry about employee leadership development? Because it will affect your financial bottom line, keep your top employees, and affect your business performance, all for the better. This article will explain what leadership development is, what the benefits are, and what you can do to help your employees become leaders.

What Is Employee Leadership Development?

Employee leadership development is training all employees, entry-level and experienced, how to be leaders. It involves making a plan to help employees grow the qualities of a good leader. Leadership is about a behavior, not a position, and leadership development will train employees how to behave as a leader. In the words of HR professional Jonathan H. Westover, “we need to get out of the old school command and control model of leadership … the future leader needs to be agile, collaborative, empowering, and focused on developing those around them!”

Qualities of a Great Leader

There are many qualities that make up a great leader. All of these qualities make a leader the type of person that allows employees underneath them to be happy and successful, ultimately growing into leaders themselves. Leaders possess the following qualities:

  • Motivational. A great leader will inspire and motivate their employees to be better and achieve new results. Rather than being forceful and negative, they are positive and inspiring.
  • Has Integrity. A great leader will also display honesty and integrity. In all situations they come across, they can be trusted to do the right thing and to treat others fairly.
  • Empathetic. Leaders will care for their employees and co-workers. They take the time to listen, to be their friend, and to understand each person.
  • Confident. A great leader needs to be confident. This involves taking charge and holding firm when needed.
  • Humble. While confident, a leader should also be humble. They need to recognize that they make mistakes and be open to feedback.
  • Delegates. A good leader will delegate tasks and allow those underneath them to grow and gain experience.
  • Good Communicator. Leaders must communicate with their supervisor, co-workers, employees and customers. They will make sure to communicate promptly and clearly.
  • Accountable. A good leader will be accountable for what they do and don’t do.
  • Problem solvers. Leaders will be able to recognize problems that exist and find ways to solve any issues.

Why Developing Leadership Qualities in Employees is Important

Developing leadership qualities in your company’s employees will help you in many ways. It allows you to grow employees into leaders instead of looking outside your organization. It also improves many aspects of the company, from culture to finances. If you’re not convinced of the usefulness of developing leadership qualities in your workforce, here are some benefits that can result from leadership training.

  • Increases leaders in the workforce. The workforce is always changing and growing. People are leaving and coming. The workforce always needs more leaders, whether they are in c-suite level positions or not.
  • Attracts and retains talent. Employee retention is 20 times better at companies that focus on leadership development. Not only are new employees attracted to the company, but quality employees will want to stay.
  • Improves business performance. Good leadership has been proven to increase a business’ lifespan, affect their bottom line and improve ROI.
  • Enhances employee satisfaction. More than three quarters (79%) of employees quit due to lack of appreciation. Good leaders ensure that employees feel valued.
  • Fosters diversity. Developing good leaders will increase diversity among employees and customers.
  • Leads to better innovation. Good leadership allows employees to grow, fostering innovation and creativity.

How to Turn Your Employees into Leaders

There are many ways you can turn your employee into a leader. It can be overwhelming to try to guide all of your employees into leaders simultaneously. It would be beneficial to review all the leadership qualities and decide which ones you want to start with. It might even be beneficial to create a leadership development plan!

1. Give Employees Leadership Experiences

To become a leader, an employee needs experience. They need to have opportunities to be a leader, like being made the lead on a project. Having experiences will give the employee the opportunity to grow and they will begin to recognize the leader within themselves.

An important thing will be to give them diverse experiences. When assigning tasks, give them opportunities to work on new things. This will help them grow their skills and their ability to lead. A leader is adaptable, and diverse experiences will help develop that quality.

2. Mentoring

Mentors can help employees grow into leaders. A mentor can guide the employees to improve as well as set an example. All leaders, including you, should be a mentor to every employee. For some businesses, this can be as simple as making sure leaders have mentorship qualities. For other businesses, they might establish mentorship programs that provide each employee with their own mentor.

Not only should employees have mentors, they should also have the opportunity to be mentors. All leaders are mentors, and giving an employee the opportunity to mentor will help them grow into a leader.

3. Teach Networking

By learning to network, employees can build the people skills needed to succeed. They will be able to initiate conversations with strangers, build connections with people and seek the help they need from others. You can encourage an employee to network by starting small, such as networking during lunch or at organizational events. After they get comfortable, you can give them opportunities like industry events.

Any good leader can network. They can ask for help from colleagues or strangers, providing mutual benefit to them. They will be able to branch out and meet new people, including new employees. More importantly, they will be able to make friends and connections that can be beneficial to them individually and to the company.

4. Allow for Struggle and Failure

If an employee needs help with a task, do they often come to you? While helping them is part of a managerial duty, it doesn’t allow the employees to figure things out on their own.

Little by little, employees should be given the responsibility to figure things out on their own. This doesn’t mean you can’t help, but it means that you give them different opportunities. Maybe introduce them to a different person who can help them. Maybe refer them to a resource where they can find the tools to help themselves.

5. Ownership Mentality

One key difference from leaders and non-leaders, all of whom fail, is that leaders take responsibility for their actions and decisions. They have a mindset of ownership, knowing that it is up to them to get something done. Help your employees develop this mindset, which will motivate them to do better with the opportunities you give them.

6. Encourage Responsibility and Independent Thinking

Why is this step different from the ownership mentality? Because this step is more focused on your actions. By encouraging responsibility, you give them the opportunity to be responsible. This means you don’t micromanage your employees. You allow them to find their own methods and solutions, even if they are different from yours. By doing this, you are showing your confidence in their ability to complete a project or discover needed solutions.

7. Emphasize Personal Growth

A leader not only has the hard skills needed for the job, but the soft skills as well. Hard skills are abilities that can be measured, like coding with a specific program. Soft skills are less defined, such as communication or adaptability. By encouraging personal growth, you are helping an employee develop these soft skills. If you allow the employee to be creative and grow personally, they will develop more skills than you could ever teach them.

As you try to help an employee grow personally, it may be necessary to analyze their strengths and weaknesses. You can assign tasks that will help them work through their weaknesses, or you might discuss with the employee what they think should be done to help them grow. Thinking about the employee individually will help you figure out what is best to help them grow into a leader.

How HR Professionals Can Improve Their Leadership Skills

There are lots of ways to do this (many at no or low cost). Here are some ideas from HR professionals.

Tammi Burnett

  1. Read as much as you can. Harvard Business Review, Inc., Forbes, and other business publications talk about leadership all the time. Ted Talks and podcasts are great too!
  2. Pick through your existing networks (family, friends, social, work, etc.). Identify a few folks you really respect who have some sort of leadership role, even if they just supervise one other person. Reach out to them and ask them if you can shadow them or buy them coffee to pick their brain on some topics. Come up with some topics or questions for discussion in advance, and see if they’re open to chatting quarterly.
  3. Use LinkedIn to connect with potential mentors. Follow a bunch of folks who post often and seem to be respected; read the posts and comments, too. If someone is particularly interesting to you, reach out in a private message and see if they’re open to having a conversation with you.
  4. Focus on interpersonal skills. Honing your “soft” skills is a key to great leadership. Practicing humility, empathy, active listening, and similar skills are vital to leadership.
  5. Free training/webinars. Lots of companies offer free courses on leadership, HR, finance, etc. A quick google search will yield lots of results, and this article goes into more detail.
  6. Formal training. There are tons of formal training and education options at various price points. eCornell is a great option, as are formal MBA/HR programs.

Chris Ruddy

I’ve found that LinkedIn is a great resource for me to find information on leadership. I follow a lot of business leaders that I look up to and they often post insightful articles for their followers. I’ve also taken to reading leadership books occasionally, to glean things from them!”

Abby Olson (VP of training at Crumbl Cookies HQ)

“What’s been extremely helpful for me is learning how my team likes to be led. I have ideas and preferences on how I like to lead, but that’s not what’s effective.

Taking the time to understand how my team wants criticism, wants direction, learning how they think, all of these “soft skill” type things, has allowed us to accomplish so much more, at such a high level.

It makes it easier to assign and delegate projects. It makes it easier for us to work as a team. All of us feel much more fulfilled when we come to work.” 

Ryan Archibald

“Self-study has been the best for myself. A few books:

  • 4 Stages of Psychological Safety
  • Leadership and Self Deception by the Arbinger Institute
  • Start With Why by Simon Sinek
  • Radical Candor by Kim Scott
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
  • The Culture Code
  • Think Again by Adam Grant
  • Difficult Conversations by Doug Stone”

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Employee Leadership Development

Absolutely. People are not born leaders but develop the qualities of leaders. Everyone has the ability to be a leader, if they are given the opportunities needed and if they are willing to try.

A leadership development plan is a tool to help turn your employees into leaders of the future. You can make a plan to help the employee develop leadership qualities. Plans are often long term and are personalized to each employee and organization. Each plan contains activities or steps to help the employee achieve their goals.

“While HR can help create and then support leadership development programs, we definitely need to generate buy-in from across the organization. The best leadership development programs will have formal and informal features, including lots of coaching and mentoring, and that can only effectively happen throughout the organization. If it is stuck in HR, buy-in will be low and the impact will be even less.” – Jonathan H. Westover

Katie is currently studying at BYU, with a HRM major and Statistics minor. She works there as an HR research assistant and also works as an HR Generalist at a local company, and both jobs provide her with a wide variety of experiences. Katie’s passion lies in HR and People Analytics, where she can discover and use data to help everyone understand and improve the workplace for a universal benefit.

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