Does Your Company Need More Leaders? Here’s How To Develop Them

“We need to create leadership throughout the company.”

This is a message I have heard time and again from managers. They want more people to assume leadership roles, even without the titles. They want everyone to think like an owner.

I agree with this sentiment. An organizational structure cannot be too top-heavy, especially as a company scales and grows. A lack of leadership leads to fractured teams, disengaged employees and a negative corporate culture. Our firm has been engaged several times with just this objective in mind.

The question is: How does one develop leaders?

I believe this begins with self-confidence, as one cannot lead if they don’t feel worthy of the task.

So how do you instill self-confidence in employees? Is there a formula or a method to instill confidence?

In my experience, you instruct them to tell their story. By telling it, they own it. By owning it, they recognize their unique role and contribution. Once that is recognized, confidence is a natural by-product.

Our firm focuses on a specific public speaking method where participants learn how to share their personal narrative and weave that into the company’s mission. We explore the intersection between the individual’s passion and the corporation’s goals. In most cases, it’s there. Where it does not exist, it is likely this person will never feel fulfilled in the corporation — an insight that is extremely valuable in its own right.

At a recent workshop, I called on the back row, where a woman named Lisa was sitting quietly.

I always try to choose those who seem most averse to public speaking, as they often become the most effective speakers. (There seems to be an inverse correlation between the desire to speak and the impact one can have.) Audiences love to be spoken to honestly, and the resistance to speak (when not overwhelming) often projects honesty and relatability. I also love the challenge of unearthing the gem of a powerful story.

When I called Lisa to the front of the room, I asked her to share her message with the company. She was reluctant at first but finally opened up. “You can overcome anything,” she finally said.

The next part of our public speaking method is what I call character development. Aristotle called this ethos. What is the credibility of the speaker? Who is the speaker? It is with ethos that we get to know a speaker. It is also here where trust is born.

Imagine if Lisa had just walked away after sharing that advice. Any audience would ask, “Who the heck are you to preach to me about what I can or can’t overcome?”

So, I prompted her to tell us the story of how she learned that she can overcome anything. Eventually, she welled up with tears. “When I got pregnant at 16 years old, I thought my life was over. I thought I would never be able to follow my dreams.”

There wasn’t a sound in the room. Lisa had just burst through the wall and opened herself up to connection. She went on to tell her story of having the baby, going to college, getting her master’s degree and rising through the corporate ranks to her current position — one of the top executives in a very large organization.

Once her fear was taken away, the leader within Lisa was able to emerge.

Let’s return to the original question of creating leaders within an organization. By sharing her story, Lisa dialed into the birthplace of true confidence. It’s what she knows she can impart because life has taught her this lesson in ways only a few are able to understand.

The problem I often see is that many managers say they don’t have the time or that there is no room in the professional environment for personal storytelling. Yet those same executives complain when there is high employee turnover, fraud, theft or distrust. To them, I say: Leadership doesn’t magically appear, and it can’t be artificially injected. It has to be methodically nurtured, structured and brought out.

Lisa wanted this opportunity. She told me she yearned for the chance to share her story with the team. So why didn’t Lisa share her story until now?

No one gave her the chance. She was making her company millions of dollars a year, but the priceless moment came when she said, “I was a teenage mom.” By saying it, she owned it, and by owning it, she stepped into leadership. She connected to her passion and her personal brand, and she became a walking representation of her message: “You can overcome anything.”

What company doesn’t want a leader who embodies this message?

If you want great leaders, allow them to do great things. Give them permission to find their passion. Your bottom line will thank you.

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