Every day we deal with a variety of matters of urgent importance in our organizations. Seldom is leadership development on that urgent list. While perhaps not urgent, few things are of greater importance to the future of our organizations that the conscious and consistent development of our future leaders. Unfortunately, when we do put time and effort into leadership development, all too often those efforts fail.
In this article I will outline seven specific things you can do – as an individual wanting to improve your leadership skills or when thinking about leadership development across an organization. Implementing any one of these suggestions will prove a valuable supplement to what you are already doing. Implementing most or all of them will yield or more confident, competent and prepared leaders than your existing development efforts by themselves ever will.
The Seven Suggestions
Create opportunities for self discovery and to create desire.
Learning anything successfully requires a motivated and interested learner. This is especially true for leadership. Often leaders see themselves as technical experts. In many cases they have been promoted because they were good at their previous jobs – which may have had nothing to do with leading. Leaders need to understand how influential they are and know how they are doing, what the gaps are and have a desire to improve. 360 Feedback processes are one way to raise awareness and create a felt need for improvement. While they can be a powerful tool, the underlying purpose for their use is to create a clear desire for further development. However you accomplish this discovery and desire, it is critical to the development of greater leadership skills.
Set a goal / make a plan.
Leaders, either on their own or with assistance, need to set an improvement goal – they need to have a clear picture of the areas they would like to develop. With a goal set, a plan can be put in place to move towards it. While this will often happen during a training event, this goal needs to be in place before attending any training to maximize the value of that training.
Focus on strengths.
Too often leaders build a plan based solely on improving areas of weakness. While we certainly want to improve in those areas, an equal amount of effort should be focused on enhancing and further developing areas of greatest strength. While there are several reasons for this, none are more compelling than the fact that less effort is required to improve an area of strength or natural talent than to achieve similar levels of improvement in an area of weakness.
Find ways to learn.
Leaders can be challenged to look for a wide variety of learning resources – encourage them to look beyond the training workshops you might provide. Have them consider podcasts, websites, lectures, books, discussions with other leaders, finding mentors, working with a coach – the list goes on and on. Once people begin to look, they will see many ways they can learn.
Find ways to practice.
Learning the ideas and knowledge is one thing, but to become a more effective leader people must practice. Encourage leaders to integrate what they have learned into practice. Help them see that there are opportunities to practice everywhere – and not only at work. People will say they are busy – and they are. Challenge them to consider their leadership development as a integrated part of their work – among their most important tasks – rather than “one more thing to do”.
Get the leader’s leader involved.
Leaders can’t do it alone. Having the leader’s leader involved will help keep development as an important priority, but beyond that, the leader’s leader can provide coaching and help remove any obstacles that might be in the way. Most of all, the leader’s leader can provide support and encouragement – two things that are critical when we are learning (and practicing) new skills.
Build systems organizationally to support the other six suggestions.
We can do the six steps above as a motivated individual. But if we want to create a process for leadership development in our organization we have build ways to systematically provide people with the opportunities and options provided by the other six suggestions.
What is Missing?
Notice that the suggestions above don’t talk about a training workshop, seminar or event as the key to your efforts. While you want any training you provide to be as useful and effective as possible, training alone can only get you so far -which is why your current efforts are less effective than you’d like them to be. The seven suggestions above are meant to be an adjunct to your training efforts – to be a process to layer on top of your existing efforts.
Training alone won’t produce the leaders you need. It is one ingredient. The other seven suggestions in this article will, when added to a valuable, practical and effective training program, produce the leaders you desire – and your organization needs.
Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (http://KevinEikenberry.com), a learning consulting company. To receive a free Special Report on leadership that includes resources, ideas, and advice go to http://www.kevineikenberry.com/leadership.asp or call us at (317) 387-1424 or 888.LEARNER.