It goes without saying that a leader or manager is only as strong as their team. But how do you bring out the best in your employees? The answer is not always easy, but being able to consistently cultivate talent can provide a wealth of benefit to all parties involved — including yourself, the growing employee, and your organization as a whole.

Remember that culture is important

Company culture and workplace culture can go in many different directions. Perhaps it’s something of a no-nonsense environment or a casual one — so long as it benefits the work that you’re doing and the people you’re with, there is no one correct way to build a culture. But there are some core commonalities that all good cultures share, such as nurturing positivity and supportiveness.

For example, a simple way to inject those traits into any culture is to celebrate the achievements of your workers. Whether your workers are independent or collaborative, private or social, everyone wants to feel appreciated. So drawing attention to accomplishments (and even rewarding high performance) further incentivizes your workers to continually try their best and to actively improve themselves.

There are other similar cultural traits that should be fundamental to every workplace, like encouraging and being receptive to new ideas, or allowing employees to be open and honest about when they get stuck on a task. These kinds of factors are independent of the “personality” of a workplace. As such, every leader should strive to encourage that kind of positive behavior in order to allow employees to truly feel comfortable and confident in their abilities.

Guide them into the deep end

You give one of your employees an assignment. They put their skills to good work and succeed. Then you give them another, and they do well once again. Naturally, you want this cycle to continue. But it’s important that you push them and challenge them to do better or to do more little by little. 

Imagine someone learning to swim, who starts by practicing in the shallow end of the pool. Well, if they never venture beyond the shallow end, they’ll never actually learn how to swim properly. In the same way, if you don’t continually push a subordinate to do better or to take on more responsibility, they might not be able to grow effectively.

When it seems like a worker is starting to get comfortable with their work, it’s time to up the ante. I like my previous analogy, because throwing someone into the deep end can be dangerous — a person could certainly adapt and learn to swim, but they could just as easily sink. By gradually pushing them to take on more challenging assignments, they’ll slowly but surely gain more skills and become more capable.

Get to know them

Conversations in the workplace are easygoing and friendly. Even as a boss, you can get to know a lot about your employees — not only will you talk about work, but you can discuss fun things they did on the weekends, learn about their interests, their families, and so on. But it’s important to try and get to know them on a deeper level as well.

Helping an employee feel valued as more than just a worker, but as a person as well, can be the key to unlocking their hidden potential, even if they are already a high achiever. Invest time to speaking with them about their passions, their long-term goals for their careers, and find ways to help them pursue that in your capacity as their boss. In many cases, forming this kind of mentorship bond can help both of you grow, and may even lead to a lifelong friendship in some cases. And who knows? They might just rise to the same level as you one day, or perhaps even go further.

Being able to consistently cultivate talent as a leader isn’t really about finding some secret method to success. It’s about connecting with your employees and finding out how you can draw out their strengths, and about finding the balance between accommodation and challenge. But when you’re able to do that, you’ll find yourself in charge of a truly excellent team.