Developing Leaders: How to Help Employees Transition to Management

Discover how to choose and train staff members for leadership positions at work.

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Developing Leaders: How to Help Employees Transition to Management

Here's what you need to know:

  • If your company needs leaders, a best practice is to plan on developing internal staff
  • Assess staffers that probably will or won’t make for good managers
  • Training and development retain talent
  • Letting employees know you’ve singled them out for advancement reduces churn and increases morale
  • Start adding responsibilities and building their skills and knowledge base
  • Employees who are able to train effectively make great leaders

The argument is ongoing whether leadership is a natural trait or if it can be learned. If it is innate, and you find an employee who has it, make sure to hold on to them for as long as possible.

Trending today is that leadership can be learned, just like any other skill set. With so few natural born leaders available, training good workers to become great leaders is an investment business should make for its benefit as well as the employee’s benefit.

Some workers are trained to become leaders, others have leadership thrust upon them. A senior employee in a group may be pushed into a managerial position because their supervisor unexpectedly quit. They may have been the employee in charge when the manager was away or on vacation.

For the short term they were able to handle the additional responsibilities. Moving into the position permanently may have unexpected consequences. The acting leader was competent enough — the permanent leader is in over their head.

Dreams of management positions versus reality

A staff member may have the mechanics of the job down pat and even believe they’re ready, but leading a team is uncharted territory. The nuts and bolts of the role are obvious — the leader sets schedules and oversees work. The behind-the-scenes aspect of the job are typically where new leaders find difficulty that can lead to regret.

In most cases, the move up the ladder is surprising. One survey found 70% of frontline managers received a promotion they weren’t expecting. Of that group 20% were excited about the prospect; 17% took the job because it seemed the next logical step in their career. Almost 20% took the role only for the pay raise.

The survey also found 18% regretted making the move and 41% were doubtful it was the right choice for them. When almost half of those promoted wonder if they made the right decision, it’s time to review who we promote, when, and why.

How to choose staff members for leadership training

If your company needs leaders — and whose company doesn’t? — a best practice is to plan on developing internal staff. Rather than wait for an unexpected supervisory vacancy, target staff members you can grow. Then begin developing their skill set in anticipation of a move up the ladder — whenever it comes.

A best practice is to plan on developing internal staff.

Assess your staff members to determine who is worth investing time, training, and resources. A good way to start is by eliminating staffers that probably won’t make for good managers.

Avoid considering:


Employees who do the very least they have to do to get by without getting fired. They ask for help often, but rarely offer it or give it back when asked.


Whether it’s customers, conditions, coworkers, or personal connections, these employees can’t go a day without finding something to complain about.


These are workers who avoid doing anything above and beyond. When it’s time to volunteer to help out, they’re no where to be found. ‘Not my job’ is their mantra.


Their appearance may be spotless, but their work is messy, late, and often incomplete.

You spend more time reminding them to get work done than they do accomplishing it.

There is a leadership quality gap in most organizations. The need to promote versus the promotion-readiness of available staff often puts business in a bind. The job needs to be filled, but if it’s filled by the wrong person, even more problems can result.

Ask yourself if you’d want to be supervised by the person. Would you want them to supervise your teenage child in their first-ever job?  If the answer is no, look for employees who have leadership qualities —  if not yet skills — to develop for management.

Seek out these staff members:


These employees are more than willing to help out when needed, they notice when others are struggling, and jump in without being asked. They’re available to answer questions and assist others, and are typically the go-to person on a team.


Workers who find a way to maintain a good attitude, even during tough times, are worth developing. These employees may have a lot to complain about, but they’re cheery nonetheless. You want to work alongside them, even when the task is daunting.

Go above and beyond

These staff members always say yes when asked to go the extra mile. They’re not only happy to help, they’re excited to learn something new. They’re interested in stretching their skills and adding value to the organization.


Their work is done right, the first time and every time. If they have questions they’re typically smart ones. They’re willing to ask for help before they do it wrong, and aren’t afraid to admit if they don’t know the answer.

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Building and training employees for advancement

Now that you know who to target for training, it’s time to get buy-in from the staff member. Whether it’s a vacancy that will open soon or a plan for down the road, let them know you’re investing in their future.

Training and development retain talent. Letting employees know you’ve singled them out for advancement reduces churn and increases morale.

Talk about where you and they think they can benefit from specific training. Look for areas of strength that you can build on, and areas where development is necessary.

Training and development retain talent.

A coach/mentor can be helpful, along with a deliberate plan for where to expand existing skills and learn new ones.

Start with these steps to grow company skills:

Add responsibilities

Start adding some of the duties they’d be required to handle at the supervisory level. Work with them to understand what is required, how it’s generally managed, and who to go to in the event of a problem.

Start with small tasks — setting schedules, for example. Give them a chance to make mistakes and learn from them whenever possible. Lessons learned are more memorable than information taught.

Build their knowledge base

What technical aspects of the work are they competent with, and what needs training? A leader should be able to execute all the tasks under their supervision, even if they’re not the fastest at doing so.

To manage others, understand what they do and how it’s done. Cross-training on all the functions within the department builds confidence: they know what has to be done and how to do it.

Grow organizational awareness

Along with the duties they hold within their group, make sure they have a larger picture of the organization. How does their team impact the company as a whole and where does their work further the mission? A wider view of the business gives more perspective on the value of their team’s contribution.

Build individual skills when developing company leaders

Next you’ll want to build the worker’s individual skill set. Best practices in training assess where the employee is today and where you want them to be in the future. Great leaders have strong emotional intelligence (EQ).

Workers with high EQ are able to recognize emotional responses in themselves and others. They leverage that ability and knowledge to gain buy-in and negotiate well with others.

Aspects of high EQ that can be learned include:

Two-way communication

More than being able to communicate clearly and effectively, leaders are strong listeners. They’re willing to hear others and even have their minds changed.

You want leaders to understand their job is more than just reiterating company policy. They must be accessible and willing to hear what staff, peers, and other stakeholders say — and act on it, if appropriate.

Coaching the coach

Employees who are able to train effectively make great leaders. They’re typically strong communicators who understand not everyone learns at the same pace or in the same manner.

Coaches go beyond training on practices and procedures. They bolster others when they’re struggling, cheer when they’re succeeding, and encourage all along the way.

Risk- and responsibility-ready

Another trait required for management is the readiness to take a risk when needed. There are times when there’s no clear answer to a problem. Other times a creative solution is the only answer. Managers who are willing to take smart, calculated (and safe) risks when necessary can lead their group to innovation and growth.

The ‘we’ve always done it this way’ attitude leads to stagnation. Train potential managers to use discretion when appropriate — it might lead to something amazing.

The flip side of taking risk is taking responsibility. A manager’s attitude should be to accept the blame when things go wrong and distribute the credit when they go right.

Responsibility-averse managers make excuses and blame others when things don’t work out. They drain morale in their group and contribute to churn. As you develop leaders, make sure they understand they’re responsible for the group’s shortfalls as much as their successes.

If you have the staff and resources, train employees in-house. If not, there are many assessment tools and training courses that build leadership and EQ capabilities. The first step is identifying those worth training, then starting them along the path.

Training and succession plans grow staff members for management and benefit an organization. Whether you’re providing one-on-one training or assessments and coursework, training potential managers invests in their future as well as the company’s future.

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