Your Leadership Development Plan

If you want to be a strong leader in any capacity, it would be wise to start crafting your leadership development plan.

Where do you want to be a better leader? Perhaps it’s at home with your kids. Or maybe you’re looking for a promotion at work. Or maybe you just want to be a stronger role model in your community… Wherever you want to be a leader, you can – as long as you’ve got the passion as well as the ability to reflect, learn, and grow.

Your leadership development plan begins with an assessment of who you are and who you want to be. When targeting areas for this step, try to just pick two or three to start with. Some actions we take will have a more broader-reaching impact, and will accelerate our growth more quickly than others. Choose a couple of areas that you really feel are priorities. You can always add on to the list and increase the complexity of your plan later.

As possible goal areas, consider any and all ideas that come to you through your ongoing self-reflection. And think about where you can begin to practice your leadership skills: what non-threatening situations can you identify to practice on a small scale? – It’s really about flexing the muscles and developing smaller habits that lead to new ways of being.

Also be creative when thinking about the supports you need to help with your leadership growth. Perhaps a manager or mentor can help create leadership opportunities for you. Maybe there’s a training course you can sign up for at work or in your community…

Remember that it’s important to be flexible in your thinking when creating and acting on your leadership development plan. In order to grow, we need to do some things differently than we have in the past!

Here are a few quotes I like to serve as food for thought in this regard:

 

“He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

“The most damaging phrase in the language is: ‘It’s always been done that way.’” – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

“It takes a habit to replace a habit.” – Napoleon Hill

 

Here are some questions to get started. Answer them in as much detail as you can, and take as much time as necessary to make them clear and actionable:

 

What do you see as your major strengths?

What do you see as your areas for growth?

Which skills related to your leadership is it most important for you to develop?

In what ways can you apply your strengths to more areas of your work and life?

How can you strengthen the weaknesses you identified?

What resources do you need to strengthen these skills?

How will you know when you are successful?

 

All of these questions are equally important, and they’re not easy to answer. They take a great deal of time and reflection, and they require complete honesty and candor. You will also need to revisit them regularly, and ask as many people as you can to answer them for you as well – and be prepared and willing to hear their answers.

Also take the time to revisit the last question until you have a crystal-clear answer: we can’t get to where we’re going until we know exactly where it is we’re headed!


How Well Do You Know the Important People in Your Life?

A big part of developing and strengthening your relationships is about really knowing the important people in your life. We all know many people on a superficial or even friendly level; but how much do we really know about who they are under the exterior we see and interact with every day?

I got thinking about this question after receiving an email from my mother some time ago. The structure of the email was that it asked a bunch of personal questions, and you were supposed to fill it out and send it onto your friends. Your friends were then able to see how much they knew about you; as well as learn some new things they didn’t know.

Truth be told, I was a little surprised (and more than a little ashamed) that seventy-five percent or so of the answers completed by my mother was new information to me.

My mother’s responses contained some obvious things I couldn’t help but know after being acquainted with her for 40 years; but there were also a lot of things I would only have known had I actually asked. It made me realize that I actually know very little about the people in my life outside the regular stuff I see every day.

Despite “knowing” certain people in my life for many years, I realized that within each one resides a whole world I’ve never seen: a world filled with hopes and dreams; likes and dislikes; goals and fears; victories and disappointments.

Within each one lies a history of choices and experiences that have shaped who they’ve become, and have brought them to where they are today: experiences rich with lessons to be shared and morals to be embraced.

I hope that you’ve put more effort into knowing the important people in your life than I have. If not, think about how much more enriched your life could be; simply by asking them about the things they don’t generally share for the sake of casual conversation.


What Do You Want Out of Life?

Before you can get anywhere, you need to know where you are going. It sounds simple, but when it comes to life goals or dreams, it’s not so clear. We think, “I want my business to be a success,” or “I want to be happy.” But ask 100 different people to define success, or to say what makes them happy, and you’re going to get 100 different answers.

That’s why when it comes to getting what you want, the first step is to decide – specifically – what you want in your life. Not in generalities, but in specifics. For instance:

NOT: “I want to be skinny,” but, “I want to wear a size 10 and have my BMI, blood pressure, and cholesterol in healthy ranges.”

NOT: “I want to be financially secure,” but, “I want to be debt-free and have $100,000 in the bank by the time I’m 50.”

NOT: “I want a new job,” but, “I want a job that allows me to work flexible hours from home, making $20 an hour, using my skills in word processing and business management.”

 

Specificity is critical in goal-setting for several reasons:

If you only have a general idea of what you want, you can only get a general idea of how to achieve it.

Being specific saves time. You will intuitively be able to sort through opportunities that are presented to you and know immediately whether they are in line with your goals or not.

Being specific helps your mind create a vivid picture of what you want. Once your mind can picture it, it’s much easier to achieve it.

 

If you’re having trouble specifying your dreams, here are some questions to ask yourself:

What does it look like?

How will you know when you’ve made it?

When do you want to achieve this goal?

What does it feel like, taste like, smell like?

What would a day in your dream life be like, from the time you get up until the time you go to bed?

 

Write these answers down and revisit them frequently to see if they’re still true, and to remind yourself of what you’re working towards.

Also remember that the only way to know if the goals you’re aiming for are the right goals is to figure out if they are your heart’s desire. Sometimes it takes some detective work to peel back the layers of societal and family expectations to get at what YOU really want.

There are clues all around you: If you fall asleep dreaming about something, wake up thinking about something, and find yourself perking up whenever you meet someone doing what you’d like to do, you’re on the right track. Meanwhile, if you get a sinking sensation when you pull into the garage of house with the white picket fence, or find yourself calling in sick to that six-figure job “everyone” would kill to have, then you may be in the wrong place… for you.

So what do you do if you find you’ve been chasing after the wrong dream? You readjust. You find ways to move your current life closer to the one you really long for. Maybe that means getting up an hour early to work on your mystery novel. Maybe it means spending your weekends teaching art to inner city kids. Maybe it means volunteering to do taxes at the senior center. Take a small step and see how it feels. Then take another, and another, until you know deep in your heart you’re on the right track. If you are, the momentum will carry you forward.


How To Become A Leader

Have you ever wondered how to become a leader if you’re not what you’d consider “leadership material”? Can anyone be a leader?

Simply stated, anyone can become a leader by having the ability and desire to take on such a role; and by having the opportunity to step into or create the role. Some people just seem better equipped for leadership, of course, but I like to think that we can all be leaders in any area in which we feel a sense of passion and investment.

The old “nature versus nurture” debate need not be a debate. The answer to any question that ponders which of these is responsible for anything is “both”. And this holds true with leadership as well: some leaders are appear to be born, and some appear to be made. Entrepreneurs and individuals who rise quickly and seamlessly through the ranks, for example, are often natural-born leaders. The “made” leader is often the individual who has been promoted because of his exceptional technical skills and knowledge. But even so, “natural-born” leaders need an environment that allows their leadership to take form; and individuals who are molded into successful leaders tend to possess some inherent traits that make their success possible.

So first and foremost, the aspiring leader needs to have a great degree of self-awareness and introspection. Leadership looks different on different levels – from the management of things to the management of people; from managing parts of the system to creating a vision for the entire interplay of systems. The aspiring leader needs to know where her interests truly lie; and she needs to understand her inherent strengths and weaknesses. She needs to know where she will be capable of growing; and which structures, systems, and environments will best support her development.

There is a big difference between “management” skills and “leadership skills”. Leaders may or may not be good managers; but they should learn (or learn to delegate). A good manager should also learn to be good leader: he should be able to manage “things and processes” as well as interact effectively with the people who make up the work unit or organization.  He should be able to do the hands-on work on the ground level, while simultaneously thinking from the perspective of the larger system.

So again, anyone can be a leader; but the conditions need to be right. The aspiring leader’s success depends on her present knowledge and skills; but even more importantly on the combination of who she is, what she wants, what she can create, and what will support her. Becoming a leader takes a deep awareness of internal and external realities, dynamics, and possibilities; as well as the desire and ability to constantly learn and grow.


Common Mistakes in Leadership and Relationships

Leadership skills and relationship development are two of the biggest themes I see in my coaching practice. This article is about two of the most common mistakes (and remedies) I see in these areas:

A common mistake I see with new leaders is that they too often try to jump in too quickly without establishing a solid framework for who they want to be as leaders and what they want to accomplish (and why they want to accomplish it). Too often the new leader will try to assert his or her authority too quickly; changing systems and delegating tasks without really thinking it through. This often sets up power-struggles and/or sets the leader’s reputation on shaky grounds.

On the contrary, I’ve noticed that exceptionally good leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. They also take the time to observe – to really understand the past and present workings of their environment, and to understand the explicit and implicit lines of influence and sub-cultures that have evolved over time.

So the first step to being a good leader is exploration. Take the time to engage in some solid self-reflection; and then slow down and observe – asking more questions and giving fewer answers.

A common mistake I see in relationships is when people hold all of their hopes on the other person changing. But blaming the other person (no matter how justly so), and holding out for them to change, just doesn’t help.

So the important first step is to really be clear on what relationships you want to build or improve upon, and why: develop compelling reasons for why you want this to work – and keep these in mind so that you can persevere with things get tough.

The next step is to really empathize and understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree with their logic, but you do need to understand their unique perspective if you want to move forward with them. Understand non-judgmentally how they came to they see things as they do, and then you can work together to start bridging the gaps. (Also develop the perspective together that people themselves are not the problem: it’s the relationship itself that needs your focus).

So in any type of relationship, as a leader or otherwise, always keep in mind that the most successful people are the ones who first do their own self-work. They question their own motives, understandings, skills, and abilities – and they take the time to discover what is and what could be before charging ahead!


Goals and Dreams

We all have certain goals and dreams, but for some reason we often keep them to ourselves. Here are three great reasons why you should share them out loud:

1. Feedback:

First off, when we share our goals and dreams with others we solicit their feedback about them. This isn’t always helpful, of course, but it certainly can be. People often have very good ideas if we give them a chance. They might have a resource we could use to help get us closer to the goal, or they might have a suggestion that might make it easier to attain.

Even the negative feedback we receive can be of great help. I’ve known many people who did something because they were told they couldn’t: someone’s negative feedback caused a sense of anger that spurred them to succeed.

2. Clarity:

The second good reason for sharing your goals and dreams out loud is that doing so fosters clarity. Our goals and dreams tend to stay very vague when they’re trapped inside our heads; but the act of telling someone about these goals and dreams means first having to make sense of and articulate them for yourself.

And the clearer your goals are, the more attainable they become: it’s when we can clearly understand and visualize our goals that we can start to devise ways to move toward them.

3. Making it real

Last but not least, stating our goals and dreams out loud makes them real. When we declare what it is that we really want, we’re forced to take our goals and dreams more seriously. And it goes without saying that we have a better chance of getting reaching our goals if we see them as something more than just a fanciful wish.

 

So whatever you want is yours for the taking. And you deserve it. Ask yourself what you really want from your life, and share your thoughts with anyone who will listen!


Managing Expectations

I’ve been reading some marketing stuff from Dan Kennedy lately, and one of the sections in that material talks about managing others’ expectations of you:

Kennedy referred to an experiment done years ago about people’s expectations: Esteemed art critics and gallery owners were invited to an art show featuring five up-and-coming artists. They were all given information about these artists ahead of time, while they rode in limos and were wined and dined at a fancy reception.

It seems that this whole “set-up” of the artists had shaped the critics’ and gallery owners’ impressions of them before they even saw their work. This was evident because they all gave the highest marks and praise to the five new artists, even among the other twenty or so well-known artists in attendance.

What the critics and gallery owners didn’t know was that out of the five artists, only three were legit. The other two were an 8-year-old child, and an elephant who splashed paint onto the canvas with his trunk.

The point of this story is that people are going to form an opinion about you and have certain expectations of you – and that you can control these beliefs and assumptions to a great degree by “setting the stage” for them.

People often use “rules of thumb” that allow them to make quick (but often erroneous) assumptions about what they see. We can take advantage of this tendency by making it easy for them to see what they want to see.

Simply stated, as shown in the story above, you can be anyone you want to be in the eyes of another – simply by playing the part. And this is not about being deceitful, but rather about “putting your best foot forward”. By talking the talk and dressing the part (literally or figuratively), people draw conclusions about your experience, intellect, skill, and ability.

And who are you to argue with their perceptions?

So decide who you want to be in this life, and step into that role. And that’s how others will view you. Then a self-fulfilling prophecy is born: the way people view you is how they’ll treat you – and so that’s who you become.


Intrinsic Motivation

Here’s a piece of research I came across that serves as a good reminder about the importance of clarifying why we’re doing what we’re doing, and what we want to get out of life:

Years ago Edward Deci conducted an experiment in his search for discovering why people do what they do. He asked each of the participants in his study to complete a puzzle: half were given a dollar for working on the puzzle, and the other half were offered nothing. At the end of the time allotted, Deci left the room and instructed the participants that they could continue working on the puzzle if they wished (or read a magazine, or do nothing). The participants who received no reward continue do work, while the ones given money ceased to work on the puzzle.

The point of this outcome is that our interest in a task fades when we’re being governed by external forces; even if it’s something we’d enjoy doing otherwise.

I often talk about building in reward structures if you need that extra boost to finish a task (i.e., work for two hours then treat yourself to a latte). This is still a good strategy, but just make sure the latte isn’t the primary reward: the research results above show us that external rewards don’t maintain behavior.

Let the latte be the driver of your behavior if that’s what it takes; but when you’ve reached the goal always go back to the reasons you engaged in the task in the first place. Focus not the immediate reasons: “because I’ll miss the deadline if it doesn’t get done”, etc., but on the big reasons: “because this task leads to this, which leads to this, which leads to the realization of my ultimate goals and purpose”.

So enjoy the latte that helped drive you to the goal. But do so with the conscious acknowledgment that you wholly deserve it. Acknowledge your ability to set and achieve goals, and how hard you’re working to realize your dreams and become more of who you want to be!


Getting Motivated

Getting Motivated is a tricky thing. Sometimes we experience it, often times we don’t. And when we do get it, it doesn’t seem to stick around for very long.

I talk with my clients about ways to increase motivation, such as making the task worthwhile and keeping your eye on the prize, only committing to bite-sized chunks and building in rewards and consequences, and staying healthy and taking regular breaks. There are many more strategies; some more effective than others.

(There are also a couple of newer books out there on the topic of motivation; which are apparently quite good. I look forward to reading them to see if there’s anything missing in my understanding of the subject).

But more importantly, I think, is something that struck me recently: I think we often use the elusiveness of motivation as an excuse to not get things done.

The funny thing about motivation is that we tend to see it as this “thing” that we can get – and that as soon as we acquire it things will be smooth-sailing. And as long as we don’t “have it”, we’re not really pressured to accomplish: we can easily blame our inaction on the fact that we just haven’t tapped into it yet.

But the truth is that it’s not impossible to act if we’re not feeling motivated. We get caught up in the idea that we can’t move forward unless we’re “feeling it” – but this just simply isn’t true. It might not feel great to take action without possessing this magical thing called motivation – but we’re all capable of doing it anyway.

A saying I quite like is “action precedes motivation”. In other words, like so many other things in life, when you stop looking it will appear. We just need to get started. So put it to the test – or as Nike would say, “Just do it”. Just do it regardless of how you feel, and stop reaching for the magic formula – you’ll be glad you did!


Get Discouraged!

Discouragement is the result of all those little thoughts, fears, and assumptions that add up to a real sense of emotional and physical discomfort. For some it’s debilitating: stopping them in their own tracks out of habit; while others keep moving on immediately as if it never happened. In both cases they fail to actively identify and challenge the maladaptive thoughts and fears that feed it.

We’re told all the time to not get discouraged. What that means, obviously, is to not give up when we feel defeated. And we shouldn’t give up – but we should also remember that feeling defeated, and scared, and insecure are all natural human reactions. If we deny the experience of discouragement, either by letting it stop us in our tracks or by ignoring its existence, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to self-reflect and self-correct. We either don’t move at all, or we risk moving forward in a maladaptive way.

All feelings serve a purpose. Our physical or emotional reactions are rich with data that we can use to adapt, adjust, and evolve. We can identify the thoughts and assumptions that feed the experience of discouragement, and hold them up to examination. We can then replace the faulty ones with more realistic and/or energizing ones; and then resolve to act more purposefully.

Picking ourselves up and moving forward after acknowledging our discouragement also teaches us just how far our resiliency can be stretched. So we shouldn’t discourage discouragement: we should embrace it and use it as the powerful tool it is.