Individual Contributors: Are you developing your future leaders?

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Individual contributors make up the large majority of a company’s workforce yet very few are being developed.  The efficiency and the long-term success of an organization largely depend on how individual contributors perform.


In a recent article published by Jack Zenger & Joseph Folkman, they discuss what behaviors make an A Player.  In their research, the number one differentiator was productivity. Top players are highly productive leaders who set stretch goals, adopt high standards for themselves and achieve the highest results.


In my career, I’ve found that those individuals are often the future leaders of an organization and therefore, they should be developed. Most people agree that a title or a leadership position does not always define one’s contribution to a company, nor does it give an indication of one’s true influence. Individual contributors often have influence but no authority. Having said that, they can also be highly productive and get others to achieve results they didn’t believe they could achieve as a team.


What happens when you develop those future leaders? Here are four outcomes that I learned early on as an executive leader.


1)    Increased loyalty: individuals feel valued and respected in the organization. They don’t want to let their manager down, disappoint those that believe in them enough to spend time and resources on their professional development.


2)    Improved retention: individuals will be more inclined to stay with an organization when they feel they are progressing or their career will continue to move forward. They feel they are being recognized for their results.


3)    Increased productivity: individual’s professional expertise is equally important and they will be more open to collaboration. They will communicate more effectively, share more knowledge from those around them. They will be more open to feedback and will want to enhance their effectiveness.


4)    Enhance leadership styles: individuals will begin to act more like managers before ever being promoted into that position. They are empowered and will be more aware of their leadership style.


Research shows that companies are missing the opportunity to retain these key individuals. In a Development Dimensions International (DDI) Survey of Individual Contributors, 52% of respondents said they felt stagnant in their current job. 25% answered that they felt like they had no room to advance.


Focusing on Workers’ Strengths

Over the years, I have been asked how I was able to successfully grow so many divisions of the companies I lead. My answer has always been: it’s the people I hire and the development I provided them that drove the results of the organizations.

Every individual contributor in your organization has different needs but when they feel valued, respected and supported they will jump through hoops for you and the company.


The ability to develop others does not come naturally to most leaders. Many leaders focus their time and attention to tasks rather than the dynamics of a team or the developmental needs of an individual on their team. However, in the end, that development is critical to the success of any organization. Help your individual contributors be even more effective and influential; as they are your “bench” for key managerial positions in the future. They will be the ones leading highly productive teams.


If you are hesitating to support that level of your organization, ask yourself this one question: “Am I really getting the best out of each one of those people?” If the answer is “no,” the next question should be: “How much better could my company, division or team be if I took the time to develop those individual leaders?” The answer is always…a lot better! Trust me: the results and your investment will speak for itself.

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Contributed by: Jennifer Browning Holmes

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