It should be widely accepted that developing the people within an organization is a responsibility normally associated with leadership, but the task is sometimes overlooked or simply overcome by events. Creating and executing a plan to develop your people clearly benefits those individuals by coaching them into a better understanding of a leader’s perspective on growth, and also directly improves the organization as a whole while implicitly maturing your own skills as an effective leader. One should not measure leaders by the followers they collect, but, among other things, by the quality leaders they develop.
It’s important to understand the conceptual difference between training and developing your people. While training typically focuses on technical proficiency, effectively developing your people focuses more on their practical proficiency, and requires planning, foresight and an understanding of organizational and individual goals. Technical proficiency refers to the knowledge, skills and abilities required to accomplish a specific task associated with someone’s role within the organization, e.g. being a competent engineer, and increasing technical proficiency tends to be the default path when leaders consider individual development plans. Practical proficiency however is the ability to operate effectively in the environment within which those tasks will be accomplished, e.g. an engineer executing his or her duties on a team that requires integration with other teams within a large, complex organization. Having practical proficiency is to understand the strategy and structure of the larger organization, how to effectively apply your technical skills within that organization, and how to manage the relationships and integration necessary to get your piece to fit into the bigger picture.
Developing people focuses on the future and the potential for increased responsibilities, expectations and performance. Developing people is softer and more difficult than training them, but done correctly, it stretches their capabilities and allows for growth. It enhances team loyalty by exemplifying the leader’s personal interest, and encourages innovation and creativity by fostering a sense of belonging. Demonstrating to people that their individual growth is a catalyst to the overall health of the organization also propagates an environment in which it is easier for them to stay motivated and engaged. Developing your people is time consuming, may require additional resources, and definitely requires a leader’s focused effort. Fortunately it can be viewed and justified as an investment rather than a cost with significant ROI for the organization as well as the individual. Your ultimate goal as a leader should be to ensure that both technical and practical proficiency is developed, and that it is done in such a way to benefit both the individuals and the organization.