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  • Tara Rethore

Please: Stop Growing Leaders

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m stepping out on a limb. I just can’t help it. Yet another headline popped up in my inbox and social media streams talking about growing leaders.


Clearly: creating a ready supply of qualified talent is an ongoing, persistent need. In today’s tight labor market, the executives I advise are thinking about who will do the work today, right now. The exit of experienced talent enhances the urgency of finding new staff now to fill the widening gap. Still, they cannot lose sight of the future: Who will be tomorrow’s leaders?


Leaders do not sprout from the earth.


“Growing” leaders suggests it’s easy. Simply add water, perhaps a little sunshine, and voilà! There’s a new crop of leaders. In reality, while there are plenty of action words that perpetuate the agricultural metaphor, (e.g. nurture, cultivate, to name just a few) leaders do not sprout from the earth. Nor do they appear in bulk – in spite of the plethora of leadership programs that exist and (to be fair) often add value.


Leaders are developed over time


Leaders are developed over time with deliberate attention, targeted care, and a clear sense of direction. Moreover, leaders develop individually and at their own pace. Often, they benefit from one-to-one interactions and guidance that encourage testing and learning from new behaviors. Unlike growing and harvesting crops, developing leaders is not a solitary endeavor. The leader contributes actively to their own growth and development.


A key part of our job as managers is to develop our direct reports and others. Ideally, we do that in consultation with the individual, having identified longer term objectives and then, the range of opportunities that may encourage use of new skills, habits, and behaviors. In my experience, that is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution.


Rather than “growing” leaders, focus on developing them. Be deliberate about how and when you talk about your talent pipeline and construct a multi-year, strategic approach to develop talent.


Promote dialogue and a shared ownership.


Shift your language as a further catalyst to promote dialogue and a shared ownership for strengthening leadership capabilities in your organization. As part of that dialogue:

  • Talk individually with your prospective, emerging, or maturing leaders.

  • Ask them about their longer term objectives and what they feel may contribute most to their ability to achieve those objectives.

  • Provide suggestions – of course! – and remove potential impediments to their development objectives.

  • Work together to create an effective development plan.


A strategic priority that warrants high-level attention


Maintaining a high-quality leadership and talent pipeline is an important responsibility for all managers, not just HR. In fact, this is a strategic priority that warrants high-level attention. For the C-Suite and the Board in particular, consider key roles, not just the CEO

or executive team.

  • Which roles – or specific knowledge and skills – are critical to your success?

  • If your current experts resigned today, how will you adapt?

Assess both individual and organizational capabilities as an integral part of your senior management agenda. Over time, you'll create a picture of what's changed (or not) and what new hot spots or areas of concern have emerged.


Today’s tectonic shift in the labor market has been years in the making. Developing talent – deliberately, consistently, and in partnership with staff – is a vital tool to assure you have a ready supply of qualified, committed talent to support your business.