How to involve your emerging leaders and what won’t cut it anymore

I was facilitating a program for emerging leaders in an industry sector a few years ago and what one participant said still sticks very clearly in my mind. Cameron said, “We’re dying to get involved in our industry but when we walk up to the doors they get closed in our faces.”

It was a really powerful metaphor for his experience of trying to put his hand up and get involved in leadership roles in his industry. And he wasn’t the only one, the other people in the program shared similar experiences.

Yet what I was hearing from the time from the people already in leadership positions was, “We’d love to hand onto the next generation but we can’t find anyone.”

There’s a very big disconnect there. So what was going on?

From facilitating leadership programs over many years, I believe there are three key factors at play:

1. Understanding how your industry or organisation works (Collateral)

2. Your visibility or being known by others (Connections)

3. Your confidence to take up opportunities and the skills you have to contribute (Capability)

So for Cameron, he had the industry knowledge to know what the opportunities for involvement were (the Collateral) and he had the Confidence to put his hand up but he was an unknown quantity – he didn’t have the Connections within the organisations he was approaching to open that door for him.

It got me thinking about what emerging leaders in industry or organisations can do to position themselves to ensure that the doors are open when they’re ready to step through. And, if you’re already in a leadership position, what can you do to help new leaders find an open door, rather than one that’s closed?

Tips for emerging leaders

If you don't understand how your industry/organisation works and you aren't known in your industry then your aims are to increase your savvy and improve your connections - otherwise there aren't any doors for you to walk through (i.e. no opportunities to get involved).

If you understand how your industry/organisation works but aren't known by others then your aim is to increase your connections - otherwise the doors remain locked.

If you are known within your industry/organisation but don't understand how things work then the doors may be ajar but not fully open. Your aim is to educate yourself about how your industry/organisation works and what the leadership opportunities are. Many of the emerging leaders I work with, particularly in industry, aren’t sure how the industry is structured – for example there may be local organisations, state and federal and it can be confusing as to how they all interlink and operate.

If you are known within your industry/organisation and you know how things work then the door is there and is open to you - you just need the confidence to walk through it!

Thinking about these three factors is like having the map to show where all the doors are, you have the keys to open them, you have someone to invite you in and you have the confidence to walk through the door and take up your opportunity.

Whereabouts are you on this grid below? What might some strategies be to get you to the Open Door quadrant so that you can get more involved in your industry or organisation?

Tips for current industry leaders

If you are a current industry leader then how do you ensure you’re not closing the door in your emerging leaders’ faces? Often it’s easiest to go with our existing network and with whom we already know – that’s the path of least resistance.

If you want to ensure your industry/organisation is vibrant, relevant and future-focused you need to make sure that all the voices are heard and included. Therefore the path of least resistance in recruitment for leadership just doesn’t cut it anymore.

You need to understand who are the different voices in your industry/organisation? Where do they hang out? As a leader how can you strategically and proactively connect with them, understand their perspectives and their needs? How can you help them better navigate and understand their industry? What advice can you give them around the skills they need and how to position themselves so that they have a positive profile?

If you do this you will ensure your industry/organisation is positioned strongly for the future.

My encouragement to you is that you need to approach your recruitment differently so that it is about creating connections first.

How to connect

One of the best ways I have seen current leaders connecting with emerging leaders is through getting actively involved in emerging leadership programs – i.e. taking the time to get to know the participants and paying attention.

One of many great examples was Belinda, a fabulous woman in industry who participated in a leadership program for emerging leaders.

Participation in the program enabled her to understand how her industry works and what the opportunities were – she built her industry Collateral. She developed new networks with other participants and with current industry leaders (Connections). She also developed confidence in herself and the skills required for leadership (Capability). She was able to build her industry profile and become known because industry leaders took the time to attend sessions and pay attention.

After the program, she was then invited to go on a national industry committee. Why? Because she was now known, she had the confidence and skills and she knew what the opportunities were and was able to realise this was a great fit for her. And the recruitment policies of the industry for leaders was not to rely on the path of least resistance but to be proactive and actively seek out and connect people who wanted to put their hand up with different opportunities. Win-win!

As an emerging leader what is your strategy for getting more involved in your industry/organisation? What might you focus on in 2019?

As a current leader, how might you connect to a more diverse range of people in your industry? How might you open the doors for them? How will you support them to discover the opportunities and walk through the doors with confidence and capability?