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While supporting the growth of individuals on your team is part of your job, it is often lowered on the list of to-dos because of the time and money many leaders believe is required to do it well. This is especially true in smaller organizations where there isn’t a talent management group and where most dollars are needed to sustain and grow the business. For those who take the development of their people to heart, this can be frustrating and challenging to determine the best way forward. Equally challenging is how to balance an employee’s aspirations for their future with the limitations of the business and their current role.

Here are four shifts to your thinking and approach when focusing on employee growth that will ease the frustration and challenge. Move from…

  1. You are responsible for their growth –> They own their growth
    It’s natural to feel responsible for your employee’s growth; however, given all your responsibilities, this is typically a source of stress and guilt since you never feel it gets the attention it deserves. Delegate ownership of this responsibility to the one who it means the most… them. Empower them to layout their growth plan and their ideas to achieve it. Give them a budget of time and money and allow them to be creative in using that budget. Your main responsibility in this endeavor is to create a safe, empowering space for them to grow.
  2. Sage on stage –> Guide along side
    Leaders often feel responsible to be the expert, guru, mentor or sage that directs the employee in the exact way to go. While you may have “been there, done that,” asserting your opinion seizes back responsibility for growth and the employee will be looking to you to script their moves. Shift now to a “coach approach” where you ask question to deeply understand their aspirations, help them clarify where they’d like to head through your questions and then ask more questions to prompt them into action. You’ll know when the time is right to step in with a specific experience or lesson learned.
  3. Meet their wants –> Serve their needs
    As you walk next to your employee on this growth journey, the time will come to really inquire if their plan is either a want or a need. Your role as leader is NOT to fulfill their wants but to serve their legitimate needs. At times, it may be possible to meet their wants, but you should always seek to serve their needs and determine what category their growth plans fit in. Serving their legitimate needs may mean your employee isn’t always happy with you.
  4. Do whatever you can to keep them –> Be prepared to let them go
    There is often a tone of desperation in the voices of my clients as they talk about developing their employees. The source of this is either the result of wanting to do whatever they can to keep the employee or being afraid to invest too much and then lose the employee to another company. Invest early, often and throughout the employee’s tenure; always wanting them to stay but ready to let them go if an opportunity arises to advance their dreams. For those who stay, your team or organization reaps the rewards. For those who go, your business becomes known as one that invests in its people.
Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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