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Building a bench of leaders crucial to company, beyond

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Regardless of whether you're leading a for-profit or nonprofit entity, building and strengthening the depth of leadership in your organization is critical. Critical not only for the long-term health and well-being of your entity but for the socioeconomic infrastructure of the many “communities” your business touches.

Starting with the direct and indirect economic impact, your organization has financial influence on employees, customers and vendors – and the places where they spend money. Your organization also influences areas of community infrastructure such as health care, education, utilities and government.

Basically, your organization's reach adds to the responsibilities of running and growing a business. And, it's fair to say there is a lot more at stake than most people realize.

The responsibility is huge. This, in part, is why business leaders feel they are so challenged when it comes to finding that right person to take over the reigns.

Who's lining up to step in to your role when you decide to slow the pace or retire?

And what about other key leadership positions in your business? Are there understudies being groomed for those positions?

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch said: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

That doesn't mean every employee needs to grow into a leader. Leaders cannot lead if there is no one to follow them. But every employee should be coached, mentored and/or trained on leadership skills.

Help every one of your employees add value to the organization. Otherwise, they may just be showing up for the paycheck.

Investing in the growth of all employees is an investment in the growth of your entire organization.

Consider an “each one teach one” concept in your business. Have two people from different departments spend one half-day per month shadowing each other.

Repeat this exercise throughout the business. The learning and insights for everyone will be priceless.

Building and strengthening leadership within an organization is considered a key part of succession planning.

Finding and growing the best talent to support a succession plan can be a very arduous and lengthy process. Don't wait until your exit strategy is in full view or other leaders start dropping hints about retirement. By then, it's too late.

To help you gain a clearer perspective, use the following exercises to help you take action.

¦ Exercise No. 1: If you had the opportunity to recreate your organization, which employees would you include in your new business plan?

Business leaders usually respond by naming the “A” players / top performers. And, why wouldn't they. The top performers in any business have the most positive impact on the organization's overall performance, and make the business more enjoyable for everyone.

But, what about the rest of your employees? If they are not candidates for re-hire, why are they there? Someone must have felt they were worthy of employment. Right? Someone must have felt secure in entrusting them with customers, expensive equipment, company information, and other company assets. Right? But, why are they not “A” players?

Do they receive appropriate, adequate and ongoing training? Do they feel valued? If not, why not? Is there anything you can do to help them become “A” players and add value to your organization?

¦ Exercise No. 2: If you decided to take a very long vacation to a place where you had no access to the Internet or phone service, who would you entrust to lead your organization?

Who could step in to your role without the business missing a beat? Who's lining up? And what do you have to do to help them stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, and not in your shadow or behind you?

Have you clearly articulated your vision and your expectations? Do you feel there is someone who can contribute an equal or greater value to the organization, other than you?

To step in to your shoes (even if they are a size 5 narrow), the next person in charge will need to do an even greater job of leading the organization than you do/did? What are you doing to prepare them? Will your ego allow it to happen?

If your organization does a great job of hiring, chances are you'll find it easier to grow people into leadership roles.

Don't insult your “A” players by hiring people just to fill a position.

Hire as if your organization's survival depends on making the right selections – because it does.

Bonnie Sussman-Versace – business leader, entrepreneur and principal of Focused LLC in Wyomissing – is dedicated to developing leaders, enhancing cultures and improving performance for business growth and prosperity. She can be reached at bversace@focusedllc.net.

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