The leadership gap: Identifying employees ready to step into leadership roles

October 8, 2019

Deena London

More than two million jobs have been added in the United States within the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, over 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day. The result is a widening leadership gap for companies across the U.S. looking to replace the knowledge, talent and loyalty boomers brought to the workplace.

Now is the time for employees to step into leadership roles, but how can companies identify employees that will serve the company well? And how do employees exhibit their ability to take on more responsibility?

As a veteran in the banking industry, I have experienced the leadership gap from both the employee and employer perspectives. In 1993, I began working at Magnolia Bank in Hodgenville in an entry-level position. With hard work and positive mentorship, I worked my way up the leadership ladder. In January 2019, 25 years after joining Magnolia, I was named the first female president of Magnolia Bank in its centennial year.

I am honored to serve in this role and realize looking back that I learned many lessons as an employee striving for more leadership opportunities in the company. I also have learned many lessons as an employer seeking to find that same drive within my team.

If you are an employer looking to fill the leadership gap in your company, I encourage you first to identify potential within the team. Paying close attention to the work habits of employees offers keen insight into their potential. Are they engaged and asking questions? Are they interested in learning a skill they currently lack? Are they not only taking home a paycheck but also adding value back into the company? If so, they are ripe candidates for mentorship that can take them to the next level of their careers.

Secondly, I suggest creating a development plan for employees showing the above attributes. Ask them open-ended questions about their personal and professional goals and then map out a plan with practical steps. These may include classes, certifications, trainings or other actions to help them achieve their aspirations.

I’m a firm believer that employers must adopt the two “E’s”: empower and encourage. As an employee works through their plan, try to remain connected and engaged. Set aside one-on-one time to discuss growth and seek out opportunities to support him or her. I’ve found that even something as simple as letting an employee sit in on a higher level meeting or a client visit creates a boost of confidence and builds motivation.

On the flip side, if you are an employee, there is no better time to showcase your dedication and desire to lead. The first step is to be proactive. If an opportunity for growth arises, speak up. Whether it’s asking a leader to mentor you, taking a class or making a networking connection, it is your responsibility to ask your employer. Not long after I started at Magnolia, former bank President, Ron Sanders, became my professional mentor. He recognized my desire to learn and provided me with opportunities for growth. Instead of passively clocking in and out each day, I was interested in growing my skill set and banking knowledge. Expressing interest in development will trigger employers to begin investing their time and resources.

Employees must also strive to stay engaged. It is often easier to adopt a “clock in, clock out” mentality, especially at an entry-level job. An engaged employee stands out among his or her coworkers. Remain involved by asking questions, providing feedback and taking notes. Your employee review is a great time to discuss potential growth as well as share goals and dreams for your career. A high level of engagement differentiates good employees from great ones.

Thirdly, employees must rise to the occasion. When you receive an opportunity for growth, perform at your best level and believe in yourself. I have found that practicing empowering self-talk and positive thinking are critical for an employee who wants to take steps toward those big dreams.

The Kentucky Career Center - Lincoln Trail (KCC-LT) has excellent resources for employers, employees and job-seekers looking to fill the leadership gap. If you are seeking employment, KCC-LT offers tools for finding a job, tips on resume writing and interviewing, and even free workshops. Employers can take advantage of KCCLT’s recruiting and hiring services.

To learn more about careers and growth opportunities in our region, check out the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board’s (LTWDB) video series, Your Career is Here, at

Deena London is President and COO of Magnolia Bank. She has worked at Magnolia for 25 years and is the first female President in the bank’s 100-year history. Deena can be reached at

The Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail helps match job seekers with local employment and training opportunities. Our business solutions team offers employers of all sizes and industries personalized support to build a competitive workforce. We are an equal opportunity employer.
Program is funded with Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I funds through the Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet and the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board.
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