Effective leadership is crucial for the success of any organization, and fostering a leadership culture can help ensure that all team members are empowered to contribute to that success. A healthy team is one in which everyone, regardless of their position or title, is encouraged to take ownership. Here are some tips for fostering a leadership culture in your organization.
Lead by Example
The first and probably easiest strategy for fostering a leadership culture is to lead by example. Leaders at all levels of the organization should model the behaviors they want to see in others. And we humans can't help but notice and mimic the behaviors around us.
Be transparent. Thank team members for their contributions in meetings. Be kind. Assume positive intent. Publicly praise, and offer critical feedback only in private. Treat people with respect. And don't interrupt people.
These simple courtesies will set the expectations for how leaders behave within your team.
Empower Team Members
To foster a leadership culture, it's important to empower team members to take ownership of their work. This means giving them the oppoortunities and autonomy to make decisions. When team members feel empowered and take ownership, they well on their way to being self-sufficient.
At one of my previous employers, we created a Tech Lead role that we rotated around the team. This person was responsible for owning the execution for a project including: collecting and documenting requirements, creating milestones, working with their team to flesh out work and translate that work into actionable tickets, providing updates to leadership, and delegating work to their peers. This allowed everyone on the team to experience true ownership and practice the leadership skills. This created a very powerful mechanism for improving the ownership and after ~12 months our team was much improved, generating project ideas, proactively fixing bugs, and embodying many of the traits of good leaders.
Communication is essential for any successful team, and fostering a leadership culture requires open and honest communication at all levels of the organization. Transparency will help build trust and create a culture of collaboration.
One of the first questions I ask teams that I work with is "How is your relationship with your manager?" I've met countless Software Engineers and Engineering Managers who told me they didn't feel comfortable talking to their managers. If your team can't be transparent with you, best of luck in your journey!
Encourage team members to speak up and share their ideas, and make sure everyone feels heard and valued. Thank people when they bring difficult topics to your attention; you want to reward this type of behavior. You want your team to feel perfectly comfortable delivering you bad news because you'd prefer to know now rather than after it's too late to correct.
Most people aren't born with leadership skills. Leadership requires development, practice, and honing. One of the best ways to foster a leadership culture is to provide mentorship and coaching. This could mean pairing less experienced team members with more senior members or referring folks to formal mentorship programs, either internal or external.
While building out our East Coast office, we rapidly hired 8 Software Engineers, many of whom started within 1-2 months of each other. To fast track their integration into the team and personal development I created a very rudimentary mentorship program where I paired them with our most senior Engineers. We rotated these pairings every quarter for ~12 months and at the end of the 12 months most everyone had picked a favorite mentor and were meeting regularly. These pairings gave our junior engineers an opportunity to have a sounding board, ask technical questions, clarify project requirements, and gave them a set of individuals they could mimic.
By investing in the development of team members, you are helping to build a pipeline of future leaders for your organization.
Recognize and Reward Leadership
It's important to recognize and reward leadership at all levels of the organization. Acknowledging team members who have gone above and beyond in their work in a public way reinforces to them and their peers what good leadership looks like.
Be lavish in your praise. Abuse those emojis. Call people out in your meetings when they do great work. By recognizing and rewarding leadership, you are sending a clear message that it is valued and encouraged in your organization.
Creating a culture of leadership requires an ongoing commitment to investing in your team. If you can implement several of the strategies we've discussed here, you'll be surprised how quickly you can affect change within your team. Best of luck out there!
If you are looking for more in-depth guidance on how to foster leadership within your team I offer paid coaching for a limited number of people. More information can be found on my Coaching page.