10 Ways to Take Charge of Your Own Leadership Development

This post was recently published at Smartblog
on Leadership

When I first
started in the field of leadership development (when gas was 89 cents a
gallon), the model we used looking like this:

When someone
got promoted to team leader, supervisor, or manager, they were sent a memo (no
email yet) from HR informing them that they have been registered for a
mandatory 4 week supervisory training course.

When they
showed up, some (or most) of them kicking and screaming, HR told them everything
they had to learn, showed them step-by-step details, made them practice (role
plays), and then sent them off to do good and no harm never to be seen or heard
from again.

Sadly, there
are many organizations that are still using this outdated method of leadership
development. While this model is inherently flawed in a number of ways, the
biggest problem with it is that people won’t grow or change unless they want to. They need to be intrinsically
motivated to change, and in order to be motivated, they need to have a sense of
autonomy, or control.

force-feeding leadership development was never a good idea, neither is going
too far in the other extreme. Some organizations have adopted a philosophy that
says “you’re in charge of your own development”. Which sounds great, but it
often ends up really meaning “good luck, you’re on your own, now sink or swim”.
They eliminate all training programs,
budgets, and support, and mandate “individual development plans”, without
teaching people how to develop on
their own.

If that’s the
situation you find yourself, here are 10 ways to put yourself in the driver’s
seat and take charge of your own development:

1. Find out for yourself what really matters. Don’t just rely on the HR-produced
formal leadership competency model. Most of these are so complicated or
sanitized they aren’t very helpful at all when it comes to figuring out how to
succeed as a leader in your organization. Instead, ask around and find out who
the most respected leaders are, then go and talk to them about what skills and
mindsets are the most important and why.

2. Go get feedback. Don’t wait for a formal 360 assessment,
or for someone to tell you where you’re screwed up when it’s too late to do
something about it. There are a number of free 360 assessment tools out there-
do a search. Here’s 10 more ways to get candid feedback, including one
of my favorites, “feedforward”. Everyone is different, and will have different
learning needs. Find out what yours are instead of conforming to what everyone
else is told to learn.

3. Write your own development plan. Don’t wait for your boss to write it,
or for HR to tell you to write one. If it’s your development, then it’s your
plan. If you don’t have a template or know how to write one,
here’s a few samples.

4. Find your own training – then ask for
Don’t wait to be
sent to class, or wait for your boss to make the offer. After you’ve completed
steps 1-3, find a training program that addresses your specific development
needs. If you pick it, you’ll own it, and be much more motivated to learn and
change. Sure, budgets might be tight, but if you put a good business case
together, you just might be surprised. Maybe you offer to meet your company halfway
– you attend on your own time of they pay for it, or you offer to pay half

5. Ask for an executive coach. Executive coaches are usually provided
to select executives on their way up, or executives in trouble on their way
out. However, I’ve heard of plenty of organizations that will approve coaching
to an executive who steps forward and asks on their own. Again, you never know.
When it comes to your own development, you have to be the squeaky wheel!

6. Negotiate your work assignments and next
Before you take
that next assignment or job, make sure it’s an assignment or job where there
will be ample opportunities to learn, grow, and develop. Sure, we don’t always
have a choice, but if you do, don’t let your company or boss force fit you into
roles that just play to your strengths.

7. Find your own mentors. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a
mentor to be formally “assigned” to you. Find your own. Look for those that you
admire that can give you advice, and ask them. Most people would be flattered.

8. Read books. Yes, books! This is a must for
continuous development as a leader, and something I’m seeing less and less.
While blogging “top 10 lists” is what I do, I also make sure I’m reading at
least a few leadership and management books each year. It requires an attention
span of greater than 2 minutes, which is getting harder and harder to maintain.

9. Start with yourself before you coach
More and more
organizations are saying that it’s the manager’s job to develop employees.
However, in an organization where every manager is developing others and not
developing themselves, you have to wonder if anyone is really developing at
all. When you learn to take charge of your own development, you’ll be a role
model and have more credibility when you show your employees how to take charge
of their own development.

10. Carve out the time and treat it as a
probably heard the story about a hiker that came upon a woodsman in the forest,
vigorously chopping down a tree – with a very dull ax. Noticing the slow
progress being made, he asked the woodsman why he didn’t stop and sharpen his
ax. ”I haven’t time,” the reply was. ”I’ve got to chop down all these