The owner of a hardware store trains two new employees while holding a drill.
One effective strategy that helps cultivate leadership skills and self-confidence is composed of a blend of on-the-job learning, mentoring, and training. — Getty images/andresr

Training and upskilling are two valuable investments that can help you retain workers and grow your business. Companies that invest in skills learning are able to improve both the performance and reliability of their workforce.

Leadership training is helpful for small businesses and highly sought after by employees. Fortunately, leadership skills can be developed informally as well as through an organized course. If you want to help employees develop their leadership skills, consider trying these approaches.

Create a mentor system

Mentoring programs are some of the easiest ways to help employees develop managerial and leadership potential. Mentoring can be as structured or flexible as you want it to be. Ultimately, it’s all about pairing high-potential employees with an existing leader within your company. “Mentorship may include regular coaching conversations or even shared projects,” wrote Emeritus, an online education platform.

If you have the headcount, consider pairing mentors with employees who are outside their reporting structure (or even outside your organization, such as another small business owner). This dynamic gives the mentee freedom to ask candid questions without being worried about their reputation or performance appraisal.

Offer plenty of networking opportunities

Increase the visibility of your leaders in training by inviting them to conferences, events, and executive meetings. Give your employees opportunities to network with others in the industry and within your organization. This level of exposure offers employees ways to observe and learn from a broader pool of leaders, as well as to network with those who can support your team to take on more responsibility.

[Read more: 9 Leadership Training Programs for Managers]

The best way to develop leaders is to give them opportunities to lead.

Delegate and offer ‘stretch assignments’

The best way to develop leaders is to give them opportunities to lead. “There’s no substitute for actually doing the job, so experience is essential for leadership development,” wrote Qualtrics.

Delegating can often feel challenging and frustrating, especially when an employee is learning. Come up with a structured, organized approach to passing bigger responsibilities on to your team members. One way to do so is by using unique “stretch assignments” — specific tasks that require skills beyond the employee’s current level of development.

“Stretch assignments are typically very uncomfortable for the people who receive them, however the sense of accomplishment upon completion can be greater, for having tried something new and succeeding,” wrote FreshBooks.

Not all delegation has to be a stretch. Sometimes, giving an employee a simple task that confers leadership is enough to boost their confidence to continue learning.

Offer formal training

Leadership training often involves becoming adept at specific business functions, such as financial analytics or paid advertising. There are dozens of leadership courses available that focus both on specific skills and more general approaches to management. Look for lectures, books, online courses, classroom training, and LinkedIn learning courses to find opportunities that will help your employee develop in specific areas.

[Read more: 6 Training Platforms to Facilitate Employee Development]

Give and receive regular feedback

The traditional approach to leadership development follows the “70-20-10 rule.” This means that your approach should consist of 70% of on-the-job learning, 20% mentoring, and 10% training. But within this mix, it’s ideal to find a system that works for each unique individual.

Some employees may find it stressful to take on stretch projects in addition to their normal workload. Other employees may prefer online learning to mentoring. Get regular feedback from your team to see what’s working and adjust your plan accordingly.

Likewise, provide coaching to your team so they are held accountable for their own professional development. Regular one-on-one meetings help keep your employees motivated and focused toward reaching the next level in their careers. Positive reinforcement along the way can help build the confidence needed to be a successful manager and leader in your organization.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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