Part of true leadership is caring about your employee's career as much as you do about your own. I've been privileged to help employees achieve their career goals for over three decades. My experience teaches me there are both obvious, and not so obvious, tricks to helping employees advance in their trade.

You know the obvious: give them growth opportunities, stretch assignments, mentors, and invest in them daily.

Here are four below-the-radar things I mention in my book The Full Potential, that are just as important if you want to help your employees get where they want to go.

1. Help them identify what they want to do, not what they're supposed to want to do.

The truth is they actually might not really know, or at least don't want to tell you for fear that it might be outside the typical career path you'd have the energy to help them get to. But too many leaders fail to push the employee's assumptions about what they think they want, while assuring them along the way that the goal in co-working their career plan is the employee's joy and fulfillment, not just crossing off an item on the leader's to do list.

It's also important to help the employee discern between short term pit stops and long-term destinations. Meaning, sometimes employees will only look so far ahead, saying they want the obvious next level up promotion that's right in front of them, but not really thinking through if it's going to help them accomplish their true long-term aspirations. It's the affinity for the short-term gratification that can have them taking missteps to what they really want. 

And don't forget to help them understand the size of the gap between where they are and where they want to go--and put together a plan to help them get there (what skills do they still need/need to demonstrate, what training/experience is needed, etc.). This requires honesty, support, and resisting the temptation to overpromise. Setting unrealistic career expectations does no one any good.

2. Have a marketing plan for showcasing their talents.

To sell any product effectively you have to invest behind it and market it. It's no different with an employee who needs other key stakeholders as supporters to help advance their career. The best leaders know how to market and sell their people.

To do so, build a marketing plan based on classic principles I learned working in marketing at Procter & Gamble for over two decades:

  • Who will you target with messaging about the employee (who are the key career influencers)?
  • What messages do you want to target those influencers with?
  • How will you get the employee exposure opportunities? (presentations to upper management, email updates on their key accomplishments, etc.)
  • When should the influencers receive the messaging? Are there specific times/occasions when the employee is up for promotion consideration and pre-seeding messages right before would be effective?  

3. Help them bring their A-game on game day.

Career making (or breaking) impressions are often formed at milestone events like big presentations, updates, or pitches. Help your employee prepare for these instances. Do dry runs with them. Help them anticipate questions and how they'd answer them. A little coaching from someone who has succeeded through his/her own fair share of big moments can really help the employee advance towards their career goal.

4. Give the gift of graduation coaching.

It's the circle of life in leadership. Eventually, the day comes when the employee you've invested in must move on from your shop to continue down their career path (hopefully helping someone achieve their career goals, too).

But your work isn't over yet.

As they're in the waning days of their assignment under you and about to move on, it's the perfect time to give them coaching/advice on how they can get off to a fast start in their new role. Encourage them to leverage their strengths in so doing and reinforce what they need to work on to succeed at the next level and beyond.

I always boiled it down to the eight best pieces of final advice/coaching I had to give them with their new position in mind--I'd put it into a document I titled "Eight to Make You Great(er)." I'd share it with them on their last day in my shop, and, by the way, make it clear that it really wasn't the last coaching/advice they'd get from me. It was a life-long partnership if they wanted. It was a better parting gift then just a hastily thrown together happy hour send off.

It should be said that showing you care, really care, about helping employees advance their career goals will help you advance yours too. You can't keep this kind of unexpected servitude a secret, after all.