When developing leaders, it's important to identify different types of job (or stretch) assignments that can foster their professional development. There are 3 benefits to doing this: (1) job assignments help assess a person's readiness level to take on more responsibilities while expanding his skill base, (2) it's a proving ground for establishing new skills and abilities, and (3) it reduces the risk of a career transition by offering a realistic look at what's involved in a new job setting or leadership role (Barner, 2011).
Barner, 2011, pp. 63-65:
(1) Working Through Messy Problems
Effective leaders are able to successfully tackle complex, ill-defined problems that have no readily available prescriptive, cookie-cutter solutions. These are often problems that an organization has encountered for the first time. These types of problems have developmental value because they push a leader’s thinking. They require the problem
solver to identify the critical parameters of a complex situation, to carefully define the problem, to explore innovative solutions, to assess the varying risk levels associated with the implementation of those solutions, and to gain alignment from different stakeholders on the proposed solution.
(2) Influencing Without Authority
A critical leadership skill involves being able to sell ideas, negotiate tradeoffs, and balance the competing interests of leaders across the organization. This skill is particularly challenging when one lacks direct authority to drive results through positional power and authority. The best leaders are able to maintain a high level of
credibility and trust with stakeholders from other organizational groups and to gain the
commitment of those groups to reach business objectives.
(3) Managing Change
The growth of international efforts, the challenges brought about by acquisitions and mergers, the introduction of new product lines or markets, and continual revisions in both organizational structure and leadership benches are but some of the difficult and stressful organizational changes that need to be managed in today’s organization.
Companies are looking for leaders who can step out in front of such changes and successfully obtain results, while retaining employee commitment for change.
(4) Thinking Strategically
Good leaders wear bifocals, in that they are able to simultaneously keep one eye on the long-term trajectory of their organization while keeping the other eye focused on day-to-day expediencies. Thinking strategically means being able to not only develop long-term overarching objectives that constitute a winning game plan for a function or business unit, but also being able to understand the long-term ramifications of short-term decisions. It also involves being able to sift out, from a variety of confusing data, those informational components that are essential to making good business decisions.
(5) Working with Diverse Groups of People
Organizations are becoming increasingly diverse with respect to ethnic, cultural, and generational diversity. However, an often-overlooked aspect of diversity involves the ability to work with cognitive diversity. This is the term that researcher Paul Paulus of the University of Texas has coined to describe situations in which we find ourselves
working with people who think quite differently and who approach problems from very divergent perspectives. An example would involve an IT leader’s ability to understand the perspectives of other departments in arriving at a plan for implementing an enterprise-wide technology change.
(6) Working Across Silos and Functions
A critical leadership competency is the ability to accomplish projects that span organizational boundaries. Such projects could include getting commitment from other functions on key initiatives, achieving alignment on seemingly contradictory functionally driven objectives, or managing process improvement projects that extend across the white space between functions.
(7) Developing Expertise Beyond Your Function
Effective leaders understand that their success in influencing actions across their organizations is strongly dependent on their ability to speak the language of other functions, understand business issues that span organizational boundaries, and align
their requirements with the needs and priorities of other work groups. For an HR leader, this might involve the ability to build a business case for an HR initiative that is based on a solid knowledge of financial analytics. For a sales leader, the same skill might focus on understanding how a new product launch will create a downstream impact on engineering, manufacturing, and distribution.
(8) Managing Through to Execution
When executives discuss whether an individual has the potential for taking on broader leadership roles, a key question that is frequently asked is, “Has this person demonstrated the ability to get things done?” Anyone can come up with good ideas, but a relatively rare skill is the ability to find ways to creatively work around cost, time, and resource constraints to see an idea through to implementation. The development of this skill area is particularly important if you work in a function such as process improvement or strategic planning, where the bulk of your time involves strategy development and
problem analysis, rather than business execution.
(9) Taking a Broader Perspective
Some of the most productive leadership developmental assignments are those that force us to examine our work from a broader organizational perspective. In part, this means being able to think at the next level; that is, to understand the issues, concerns, and leadership thinking that drive your manager’s decisions and priorities. It also means being able to move beyond a narrow parochial view of your job to see how your work is viewed from the perspectives of your internal stakeholders and external customers. Finally, it involves developing an understanding the potential impact of broader organization-wide business objectives and change initiatives.