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Focusing Your Leadership Development

Focusing Your Leadership Development

Leaders can dramatically increase the likelihood that developmental activities will help them become better leaders, by taking the time to focus their efforts each year. This involves two simple steps, determining potential developmental needs and setting developmental goals. The effectiveness of leadership development can be increased when leaders undertake a series of both on and off the job experiences, all with a common focus. This should be done over a prolonged yet finite period. An annual cycle may be quite suitable.

Effective leadership development starts by looking inwards and gaining a heightened sense of yourself as a leader. Most leaders have risen to their current positions because they have succeeded in previous roles. Yet, in new roles and different situations, what worked before may not be appropriate. Successful leaders are self-aware. They capitalise on their strengths and develop themselves in their weaker areas. They then have a broader and more balanced repertoire to draw on as circumstances demand. Developing self-awareness should not be left to chance. Nor should leaders rely on their own gut feelings. Even the most noble leaders tend to judge themselves by the intent behind their actions rather than the actions themselves.

The identification of developmental needs is the first step in focusing subsequent leadership development.

Leaders can use psychometric self assessments or 360 degree feedback to identify their own developmental needs. There is no doubt that a leaders personality influences their behaviour. Psychometric self assessments, such as the Californian Psychological Inventory (CPI), the Leadership Development Report and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Step II can all give leaders valuable insight into their potential developmental needs, along with suggestions for how to improve within those areas. Yet, personality does not dictate behaviour nor competence. Leaders who use psychometric self assessments to focus their development, should view their potential developmental needs, rule out those that they have already developed their competence in and focus on new areas to develop each year. 360 degree assessments go one step further, providing unique insight into how others perceive a leader. Such insight is valuable as staff react to their perception of a leaders behaviour, not the behaviour itself. Leaders should select 360 degree assessments that are valid (they should measure leadership competencies that actually make a difference to the impact a leader has) and reliable (leaders should be able to trust the integrity and accuracy of the results). Using self-made 360 degree assessments may be tempting, but without a great deal of time, money and energy being invested into the process it is fraught with danger. The number of quality commercial instruments may make it easier for leaders to select an existing instrument, which suits their context.

The second step leaders should take to focus their developmental efforts, is goal setting. To help avoid goals turning into meaningless good intentions, five guidelines should be followed. Leaders should:

  1. Only select 1-2 goals each year. These goals serve as a focus for a series of related developmental activities over the 12 month period. Leaders should use the handful of developmental needs identified through their assessment as a starting point to consider, which needs are most relevant to their context at work and their career aspirations. This helps ensure that goals are both relevant and motivating.
  2. Write goals in fluid rather than static forms. “I want to become more assertive” is better than “I want to become assertive” and “I want to use a more participative approach” is better than “I want to be a participative leader”. A fluid goal enables leaders to reflect on their success-to-date along the way. Success breeds success.
  3. Add detail into goals. “I want to use a more collective approach to decision-making” is better than “I want to use a more participative approach”. It is also different to “I want to increase my confidence in delegating important decisions”, yet both goals relate to using a more participative approach.
  4. Publicise their goals! Tell the boss. Tell staff. By telling others what they are seeking to improve leaders provide themselves with a source of both gentle pressure and support. They also prepare people for the fact that they will be exploring and practising new behaviours. Without such forewarning, staff are prone to attribute all sorts of meanings to a leaders new behaviours.
  5. Plan how they will evaluate their goals. This should be both a progressive and summative activity. One progressive technique involves seeking informal feedback from one or more people each week, in relation to their specific goal. Another involves meeting with their boss once a month to discuss any observations they have made. Summative evaluation could involve a leader asking a group of people to rate their effectiveness within their goal area, as it was 12 months ago and now. Collectively these evaluations provide a measure of distance travelled over the year. Planning to evaluate should occur at the goal setting stage as it further focuses subsequent development. What gets measured gets attention.

By taking the time to focus their developmental goals each year, leaders:

  • Are more likely to develop those areas that truly need it.
  • Can connect a series of different developmental activities to create a focused learning journey.
  • Position themselves to improve their leadership, not just their knowledge of leadership.

You can access further information at http://www.leadershipdevelopment.edu.au