Leadership Caffeine™: Accelerate New Leader Development

image of a coffee cupSpeed kills.

Except when it comes to the development of your emerging leaders.

In my experience, many senior managers move too slowly to expose their developing leaders to new and more challenging situations. This is a mistake that artificially inhibits professional growth and potentially risks losing the interest of your best and brightest emerging leaders.

While we all learn and develop at our own pace, don’t let the corporate calendar and performance evaluation cycle slow you or your high potentials down. Here are 5 ideas to help you move opportunities along at a faster pace, and a polite reminder that nothing is free. You’re on the hook for coaching every step of the way.

5 Ideas to Accelerate the Development of Your Emerging Leaders:

1. It’s the Experiences that Teach. Leading is learned by doing. We can read about it, talk about it, attend courses on it, and debate it in forums like this, but, there is no substitute for time spent doing and even flailing and occasionally failing. Let go of some responsibility, take a few risks and get your emerging leaders busy guiding someone, some team or some initiative.

2. Point the Way, But Don’t Provide the Map. By the time you’ve decided an individual is capable of “more,” you’ve already tested their ability to follow orders. Make certain your apprentice understands the purpose and desired outcomes from their initiatives, but hold back on providing the turn-by-turn directions. Part of what you are helping these individuals explore and cultivate is tolerance for and response to situations of increasing ambiguity. The sooner they get lost, the faster they’ll find their way towards the goal.

3. Let Them Sweat the Decisions. Early leadership development work should be boot camp for decision-making. Ask questions, challenge thinking and encourage the development of different frames and alternative options, but at the end of the day, hold your emerging leaders accountable to making decisions for their initiatives. Sure. you can always veto a potentially disastrous decision, just don’t short circuit this critical learning experience. There are few things more important in your own life as a coach and developer of leaders than to help people learn to make, execute upon and ultimately assess and learn from their own decisions.

4. Provide Frequent New Challenges in Short Sprints. The goal is maximum exposure in a compressed period of time to situations involving setting direction, motivating resources, guiding decisions and leading execution and implementation. I encourage operating within the headlights of quarterly initiatives and assessments with ample helpings of daily observations and behavioral feedback. Keep the challenges flowing at a pace that pushes and challenges the individual. Of course, be sensitive to signs that say your young charge is about to be overwhelmed. A bit of “whelm” is good…too much is destructive.

5. Don’t Skimp on the People Issues. We all know this leading stuff would be easy if it weren’t for the people. Create informal opportunities early in the process and then ratchet up the accountability and responsibility for group and individual performance along the way. Teach good feedback skills and require them to be put into action. There’s no better way than to learn on the job!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While I’ve been accused of being a bit of a speed demon when it comes to professional development, I’ll err on the side of someone I believe in every time. The only way to gain experience is to get experience, and we’re not helping our people grow by keeping them on the bench watching us work. It’s time to put them in the game.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

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By | 2016-10-22T17:11:22+00:00 March 31st, 2013|Leadership, Leadership Caffeine|4 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Jennifer V. Miller April 1, 2013 at 3:44 pm - Reply


    As always a fantastic, real-world post! Point #3 is especially important. Early in my career, I had a boss who was an excellent developer of leaders. She would ask for my input, and if I prevaricated, so would look me straight in the eye and say, “Jennifer, I asked for YOUR opinion. What do YOU recommend we do about this?” It not only honed my decision-making skills, but gave me a much-needed boost in confidence.

    • Art Petty April 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Jennifer! I love the style of your former boss! -Art

  2. […] From Art Petty:  Accelerate New Leader Development […]

  3. Paul Strzelec April 5, 2013 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    Great post! I enjoyed your thoughts on “whelm”. We are all in the People business. Always working to strike the balance between challenge and overwhelm (“whelm”) – especially with emerging leaders. We need to develop more active and agile leaders. Learning to shape emerging talent is critical. Sweat the details and the decisions. Thanks.

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