What could possibly go wrong?

I always laugh when I hear someone say those words because of course anything can go wrong. Or it can go right. But much of that depends on how well we are prepared. In both my personal and professional life, I believe in planning for contingencies. When my kids were little, I didn’t leave the house without extra clothes and diapers. I knew the likelihood of needing them was high. In the professional world, the failure to plan for contingencies can lead to catastrophic failure.

One of the easiest and most rewarding methods of planning for contingencies is to make leadership development a priority. Organizations that are seeking to build long-term success know that developing leaders at every level of an organization is crucial.

Jack Welch , former CEO of General Electric once said, “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds, too.” Mr. Welch understood the value of leadership development in organizations as large and powerful at General Electric, but what about in your small business? In your church? In your nonprofit organization? Is it just as important to develop leaders in the local business as it is in corporate America?

I personally think it is more important.

Imagine a locally owned hardware store. We still have a few of those around that haven’t been edged out by large retailers. It’s the place where the old-timers still go, the place where I can walk in and actually have a conversation about how to repair something or even get a reference for a quality repair service with someone who very likely knows what they are talking about. This type of business has been in operation for generations, and they are the backbone of our country. But these types of business owners don’t typically consider the concepts of leadership development in terms of their own company, because they don’t have the time to invest, the money to invest, or the understanding, perhaps, of just how critical small businesses are to the economy. After all, it’s hard to see the big picture of how you fit into the global economy as a small business owner when you are just trying to keep your head above water!

When any organization invests in building leaders, it is like setting money aside for the future.

Leadership development in smaller organizations is about identifying those people who show potential for leadership growth, and are also likely to stay with your organization. I used to know a small business owner who owned a coffee shop in a small college town. She was always looking for a college student to come help her manage the business, but the students weren’t really interested in sticking around, they wanted to spread their wings.

One day, after a particularly disheartening conversation with her, I suggested that she stop advertising at the university for managers, and see if a simple ad in the local paper might help her find someone who was a permanent resident that she could train. The lady really just needed a few days off, and didn’t have anyone she trusted to leave in charge. She ran the ad a few times and got several good applications. One of those ended up being a lovely young woman who really needed the work. She was a single mom who appreciated that the coffee shop was closed at night and on Sunday. My friend invested into this new employee and now the employee manages the shop and my friend travels several months of the year!

When any organization invests in building leaders, it is like setting money aside for the future. It’s building plan to carry on in the event of illness or accident. It’s teaching your employees how you want your customers treated (because your employees will treat your customers as well as you treat them!). It’s learning to delegate some jobs to other people because you have identified that their skill set is a better fit for a particular job than yours is. It’s about identifying the best in people and helping them learn to develop themselves and pull that potential out of them, to the benefit of both the employee and the organization!

What do you get out of it?

Different things matter to different people, but some of the things you might gain from leadership development in your organization are:

  • A happier customer who recommends your business/organization to their friends and family.
  • A workforce who is excited and motivated to come to work because they know you believe in them.
  • Higher profits as a result of happy workers and customers.
  • A proud reputation as an employer of choice.
  • A plan to keep the legacy you’ve worked so hard to build intact.
  • A day off (or more!).

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”- Vince Lombardi.

Small business owners, nonprofit directors, and church leaders understand hard work. It’s what we do. Most never get rich in spite of working much harder than they would if they worked for someone else. But these entrepreneurs are building something. They are doing what they can to make the world a little better. Developing leaders within your organization sends a clear message that an organization intends to succeed, whatever the mission.

There are variety of leadership development programs available to organizations, but a good rule of thumb is to conduct a needs assessment first to see what areas of weakness your organization might have and then choose a leadership development program that will closely align with your organizational values and fit into your budget and schedule.

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