When it comes to developing future leaders and aspiring directors, Maureen McGonagle said you must start with a foundation of trust.

As the director of Campus Recreation of CENTERS LLC, at DePaul University, McGonagle has not only seen her fair share of aspiring directors, but she has in fact created an annual, two-day workshop hosted in Chicago. “It is a workshop targeted at those who have at least seven years of experience who are interested in moving into a director position,” she said.

Beyond workshops and professional development, she noted the power of mentorships, and being a mentor who will communicate honestly and directly with the mentee is key. “If you commit to mentoring someone, do it well,” said McGonagle. “Create an environment where staff are both challenged and supported. Give staff as much autonomy as possible.”

Eric Nickel, the director of University Recreation at James Madison University, said when someone voices their interest in becoming a director, he looks for opportunities to help them develop competencies in an area that isn’t their strongest. He also meets with his full-time staff on a yearly basis to discuss their life plan and career aspirations. “I try to encourage people to create their own path and help them gain a vision for how they may get there,” he said. “I think one of the roles of a good director is to identify and develop talented people, and to be observant of all levels of their organizations.”

One thing he noted as essential to teach any aspiring director is to help them understand the “why” behind decisions. They can then take that understanding and apply the principles involved to other challenges down the road. “So, I might check with them after meetings to see what they are thinking, and process some of the ‘why’ and how we arrived at it,” said Nickel.

The most effective approach in developing leaders is to allow them to learn through doing. McGonagle said you need to assess where their knowledge gaps are …