*Free Leadership Development Program: Becoming a Great Leader

Introduction and background

After a recent post called “Clues That You May Have Fallen off the Fast Track” , I was interviewed by a reporter from The Globe and Mail (Canada’s national newspaper), for a story called “Getting the jump on the fast track“. The reporter, Wallace Immen, asked me what an employee should do to get themselves back on the fast track. One of my answers was “Take charge of your own development. While formal corporate programs and resources are nice, you can also create your “program”, as long as you have some initiative and know where to find the resources.”

That interview gave me the inspiration for this idea. Simply saying “take charge of your own leadership development” might not be enough for a lot of people. Most people wouldn’t know what to do.

What if I created a leadership development program that anyone with $100 and a good dose of initiative could complete on their own?

So here it is, my first draft. It turned out to be more of a project than I thought it would be, taking up a good part of a rainy Sunday morning in New England and hours of follow-up refinement. Your feedback is welcomed, including pointing out typos, which I am sure there are many.

Terms of use and disclosure:

1. Individuals may freely print and use all materials – that’s why I created it.

2. If you are an internal practitioner or external consultant or coach, you may use and electronically distribute this program to your clients but may not charge for it. You may publish this post in it’s entirety on your website or blog (but must inlude all links), or distribute via an email with instructions and a link to this post.

3. While you may add your own suggestions in your instructions, the content of the post cannot be modified without my permission and all links must stay intact.

4. You may print and distribute copies of this post, with embedded links. If you want to print and distribute copies any of the posts I’ve referenced and linked to, please email me (danmccarth@gmail.com) for permission with an explanation on how you’d like to use it.

5. Disclosure: I have no direct affiliation with any of the books or products contained in the program. I am, however, an Amazon affiliate, so when products are purchased though the links in the post I’ll receive a small commission.

Becoming an Great Leader
A self-study leadership development program for aspiring leaders
Designed by Dan McCarthy, author of Great Leadership


1. Buy a “learning journal”. You’ll use this to take notes throughout the program. Read this post for more on learning journals: “Learning Journals for Leadership Development“. Cost: $15.00, can be purchased at any office supply store or online at Amazon.

2. Participation in this program is only for serious and committed students of leadership. If you are not willing to invest at least 40 hours of your time, then don’t bother starting.

3. Schedule time. In order for this program to work, you need to treat it like an appointment. Block out 2 hours per week for the next 20 weeks, or more until the program is completed.

4. Decide if you want to complete the program alone or with a partner. The advantage of taking it with a partner, or study group (no more than 4) is to share your insights, coach each other, and keep each other motivated. The disadvantage is it will take some coordination and cooperation, and the introverts may not prefer this method.

5. Create a folder on your computer, Nook, IPad, or use an old fashioned 3-ring binder to keep track of documents, books, feedback, reports, etc… This, and your journal are your course materials.

Module One: building a foundation

1. Write a goal statement.
Why are you interested in learning more about leadership? What’s your motivation? Think about it, write a draft, reflect, and refine. This should be your vision, your north star, something that will keep you motivated to complete the program. Write it in your journal.

2. Learn from the leadership “gurus”.
There are an overwhelming number of models and theories about leadership. While there is no single “bible” for leadership, you have to start somewhere. You’ll need some context before you can begin to identify and talk to role models, get feedback, practice, and set specific development goals. While I know leaders that read one leadership book a month, we’ll start with three:

The Leadership Challenge, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner (used, $10.00)

On Becoming a Leader, by Warren Bennis (used, $10.00)

What Leaders Really Do, by John Kotter (used, $10.00)

As you read each book, jot down insights in your journal. You should end up with at least 2 pages of notes per book.

Module Two: Learn from role models.

Now that you have a foundation of what leadership is all about, it’s time to learn from those leaders that you admire and exemplify the leadership qualities you want to learn more about.

You will learn about these role model leaders in a number of ways:

1. The movies. Rent/download two movies from the following list: 20 Best Leadership Movies; Break Out the Popcorn. My personal favorite: Braveheart. Record insights in your journal. (2 movie rental/downloads, $10.00).

2. Books. Read two biographies of leaders you admire. Some recommendations (all under $20 used or new):

– It’s Your Ship, by Captain Michael Abrashoff;

– Quiet Strengths…., by Tony Dungy

My Life in Leadership, by Francis Hesselbein

3. Real live leaders. Interview three leaders that you admire and feel you could learn from. It could be your old high school or college sports coach, a business leader, a family member, your pastor, or even someone you don’t know but has a reputation for being an outstanding leader. Don’t be shy…. reach out, ask for an hour of their time, ask questions, and take notes. Most people, even those who you think might be hard to contact, are usually flattered and willing to talk about themselves and leadership. That’s part of being a great leader, they usually are willing to give back and teach others. Who knows, one of these role models might end up being a mentor. Cost for three cups of coffee, $10.00.

In case you have not caught on (last reminder), yes, record your insights in your journal. At this point in the course you should have about 20 pages of notes.

Module Three: Capstone project #1.

You’ve learned all about leadership, now it’s time to get some practice. Find an opportunity to lead. It can be a project at work, a little league sports team, a volunteer assignment, planning the neighborhood barbecue, a church committee, anything that gives you the opportunity to set a direction and inspire others to action. If you are completely stumped and can’t think of one, read “10 “Off-the-Job” Leadership Development Opportunities” or purchase CCL’s 88 Assignments for Development in Place ($15.00).

Module Four: Feedback

Once you’ve had a chance to apply what you’ve learned, it’s time to get feedback. Read “10 Ways to Get More Candid Feedback” (and 5 ways if you really can’t handle the truth) and “18 Tips for Receiving Feedback”.
One of the ways mentioned to get feedback is to take a formal leadership assessment. While many of these require assistance from a certified professional and would exceed our $100 budget, I’d recommend
the LPI Online 360 assessment. It’s based on the Leadership Challenge (which you have already read) and only cost $130.00. There’s even a free trial version, although I’ve not tried it.

Module Five: Reflection and coaching

Reflect on what you’ve learned about leadership and yourself. Read back over your journal. Either by yourself or with a learning partner (a partner would be the preferred way for this part of the program), answer the following questions:

1. Which aspects of leadership resonated with you the most?

2. If you could pick one thing that would make the greatest impact in your ability to lead, what would it be?

3. What have you learned about yourself?

4. What’s your motivation for wanting to be a leader? Has it changed since you started the program?

5. What obstacles are getting in your way? What can you do about them?

6. What are your next steps?

Module Six: Development planning

Read “How to Write a Great Individual Development Plan” and create your own plan. You should recognize the process, because you’ve already been following it in a general way. Now’s the time to get more specific – you’re not just learning about leadership, you’re putting a plan together to develop a specific aspects of leadership. Here’s a couple examples to get you started.

Module Seven: Capstone project #2: Your leadership “rules”.

From studying great leaders, you know that every great leader has a set of guiding leadership principles, or “rules” that they live by. Now it’s time to create your own. In your journal, develop a set of personal leadership “dos and don’ts” that you are willing to commit to live by. These are yours are yours alone, and should incorporate your deeply help values and beliefs. This is the list in which you’ll strive to exemplify and role model. They are not situational, to be bent and modified based on circumstances. For inspiration, try reading the Declaration of Independence. It’s still an amazing document!

Post course work and graduation

Now that you’re hooked on leadership, you won’t want to stop learning. Become a lifelong student of leadership by subscribing to free blogs, newsletters, Twitter summaries, and podcasts. Pick at least six and subscribe via email:

1. Here are three sources of leadership blogs:

AllTop Leadership

HR Examiner’s Top 25 Leadership

Top 50 Leadership blogs

2. Here are three leadership newsletters:

SmartBrief on Leadership

– The Center for Creative Leadership’s Leading Effectively

HBR’s monthly leadership newsletter

3. Graduation.

Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve graduated. Now you just need a course certificate and photo. You’ll need to create your own certificate, however, if you mail it to me with a postage paid return envelop, I’d be glad to sign it for you.

*Total cost of course materials: $100.00.
The value of learning to be a better leader: priceless.