I have the privilege to work and mentor with several talented people who are pursuing formal leadership positions. As I work with them to prepare to compete for those positions I have found there are six keys to successful leadership development:
- Consistently strong performance. Bottom-line, before you can even think about moving into a leadership position, you need to be doing excellent work and delivering strong results in your current assignment. You need to be a top performer. If you aren’t a strong performer at this time, stop here, don’t read on. You need to become a strong performer and role model, striving for continuous improvement, before pursuing a formal leadership position.
- Diversity of experiences. A leader I know often talks about “depth and breadth” when reviewing an emerging leader’s experiences. I think that’s a good way to describe what I want to communicate here. You should have a diversity of experiences to prepare you for a leadership position. Look for those assignments and experiences in which you will be able to demonstrate your leadership and get results through others. If you can’t get results through others, you are what Marcus Buckingham refers to as an “individual contributor”, not a leader.
- Work with multiple leadership mentors to help you grow in different facets of leadership. You might want to read and discuss leadership books with them. The mentee should drive the relationship, so have a plan when you approach someone to mentor you. You should also demonstrate your leadership by mentoring others. So be a mentee and a mentor.
- Self-awareness. Learn about yourself through asking for feedback and taking assessments such as Strengthsfinders, StandOut and Myers-Briggs. I have found these assessments to be extremely helpful to learn about myself and about those I work with and mentor. Some of these same folks have provided input for this article.
- Continuing Education. Be a lifelong learner and model continuous learning, and then apply what you are learning. Read good leadership and personal development books, and consider advanced degrees and designations in your particular field. Get involved in the professional organization aligned to your field. Continue to grow yourself and in turn you will increase your competitiveness for a leadership position.
- Leadership presence. With this one, I always say it’s hard to describe, but you know it when you see it – or you don’t. How are you perceived when you walk into the room, when you are attending or presenting in a meeting. Do others see you as a leader?
These are six keys that I have found for successful leadership development. Do you agree? Do you have others to add?