When starting a small business, nurturing potential leaders on your team isn’t usually top of mind. For one thing, you may be the whole team. Out of the 28 million small businesses in the U.S., only about 4 million have employees other than the owners.

But as you grow your business, eventually you’ll reach the point where you can’t do everything alone and need to hire employees. That means you’ll need managers to lead them, so they can act quickly and effectively, even if you’re not there to make all of the decisions.

So where do you find people with the capability to excel as leaders? Often, they may be hiding in plain sight as part of your existing team. Employees who know your business inside and out are often the ideal people to guide their colleagues, as long as you nurture their talents so they can lead their team successfully.  Here are some strategies to uncover the leadership talent on your team.

Keep your antenna up.  

People generally do best in leading others when they are passionate about the work they are doing (and good at it). Stay on the lookout for team members who truly seem to love their job. Genuine enthusiasm and commitment are contagious—and magnetic—and will go a long way if you opt to tap them for a leadership position.

Look for “soft skills.”

Listen to almost any management guru today and you’ll hear a common refrain: Top-down leadership—where the boss barks orders—is fading out, and more collaborative styles are taking hold. Take note of team members who are great at motivating their colleagues through alternate approaches. Someone who motivated his or her colleagues to contribute generously to a charitable food drive may be equally adept at inspiring them to close more deals or improve your company’s customer satisfaction scores.


Open the door for education.

Many times, employees don’t think like leaders because they don’t have the same understanding of what makes a business grow as the management team has. By educating your entire team about how the business turns a profit to the extent you are comfortable and explaining how they can contribute to its growth, you’ll be surprised at how they start to think differently. Of course, your openness will go a lot further if you find ways for them to share in the growth of the business, perhaps through a profit sharing plan or bonuses if they meet specified goals.

Get them inspired.

Many entrepreneurs love to read books on successful entrepreneurs for a good reason: They’re energizing and remind you of why you stepped up to lead in the first place. When you spot team members who seem to have leadership talent, giving them the gift of an inspiring book can be an excellent investment.

Need some ideas on what titles to pick? Some popular choices include Uncontainable, by Kip Tindell, chairman of the Container Store, Grit by Angela Duckworth, and How Successful People Think, by John Maxwell.


Let them dip a toe in the water.

Many potential leaders may feel unprepared to lead a team if you ask them to step into a management role right away. Give them an opportunity to try leading a group on a smaller scale first (think: managing a project or planning an event). An employee who feels confident he or she can lead one shift a week may be much more enthusiastic and confident about taking on more responsibility than someone who has never done it before.

Make time to coach.

Even natural leaders won’t necessarily know how to lead in exactly the way you want them to. One of the best ways to nurture their talent is to set aside time each week for one-on-one coaching. Ask them to be candid with you about any roadblocks they are encountering, so you can help them find solutions and sharpen their leadership skills.

Put good systems in place.

If your company has decided on the best ways to tackle certain procedures—whether these are phone calls with clients or stocking inventory—commit them to writing. Discuss them at meetings and post them on an intranet or wiki where everyone on your team can refer to them. The clearer you are about how you want things done, the easier it will be for the leaders on your team to guide others in working that way.

You may be pleasantly surprised by how much leadership talent there is in your business once you start looking for ways to make it easier for team members to step up to the plate.