Leadership Development is a Broad and Complex Topic.
I used to think that leaders were born and not made. You either have the skillset or you do not. I believed my mentors had an innate ability to get it right and that they had some magical power to always make the best decisions. As I grew in life and in my career, I recognized that leaders were shaped through years of practice that included failure. I learned that mistakes were made even by the people who I thought were the best leaders. I realized their vast knowledge came from personal achievements as well as failures — especially in the cases of very successful leaders — leading to my assertion that leaders are developed. With that said, I share some thoughts from my travels.
This will allow a plan for leadership development focused on closing that gap. Keep in mind, it is not about a deficit in technical knowledge in an industry but about the skills required that enable others around you to achieve a specific goal. Too often individuals are promoted to leadership positions based on their technical knowledge and less on their ability to lead. Technical knowledge will add credibility and trust in a leader, but it does not ensure a team will succeed.
There is always a starting point for everything. For leadership development, that starting point is experience. Ask yourself, what experience, good or bad, do you have in leading a team to a specific goal? This will help determine the growth needed to reach the desired level of leadership for a position. It is important to understand the gap in current performance compared to desired performance.
Learning how to lead others depends on your own strengths and weaknesses. Continuously improve who you are and do not pretend to be someone you are not. While there are some universal elements to leadership, amplifying your existing strengths is a start to a solid development plan. It is also important to be self-aware of weaknesses and faults so that you may guard against them. There are a lot of elaborate tests out there that can help identify some of your positive and negative leadership traits. However, taking the time to make a pros and cons list yourself would get you close to their results. You could also go a step further and ask a few colleagues for feedback. When asked, most people are eager to share how your words or actions make them feel.
The good news is that you can be developed into a leader. Be honest with yourself about your current level of experience, where you need to be, what strengths you can build on, and what weaknesses you need to improve. After you have determined these, write them all down. Writing down a goal and looking at it often can be enough to achieve it. It is even better when there is a little detail or plan behind the goal to keep focus on how to get there.
Current performance: The only group I led was my high school water polo team.
Desired performance (goal): I want to become a supervisor at work, leading my team to achieve annual department goals.
Strengths and actions to build on:
- Honesty – Before sending an email, reread it to ensure that content is accurate.
- Dependability – Before sending out a meeting invite, ensure that I am available at that time.
- Encouragement – At least once a day, acknowledge good performance by a coworker.
Weaknesses and actions to guard against:
- Bad communication – Establish a weekly meeting with peers to share information and ideas.
- Disorganization – Keep my desk tidy and computer files organized so anyone can find needed information.
- Doing the minimum – Challenge myself to ask how an assigned task could be done better than requested.
Once you create and implement your plan to develop as a leader, allow yourself to fail and learn from it. The goal is not failure, but failure is going to happen anyway. Adjust your plan based on what you learned to repeat your successes. Leadership development is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes practice and dedication to become a mover and shaker. There are no shortcuts to long-term, sustainable performance as a leader. Set realistic goals, meet or exceed them, and then start again. You and your team will become addicted to the results of success and learn to embrace the teachings of failure.