We work in a 24/7 environment thanks to technology and the global reach of business today. The demands on leaders are compounded by corporate demands of exceeding goals, developing strategies, creating a vision, securing new clients, delighting current clients, addressing the ever increasing demands of government regulations, Board and shareholder demands, travel, staff development and creating the leadership pipeline for the future. Is it any wonder that this schedule makes it very difficult for leaders to focus on their own development?
Leaders need to focus on their own development or they will get stale or overuse a strength which could become a liability. What I have experienced over the past several years helping leaders is the best ones find the time right now despite the demands at work. They have a keen ability to re-invent themselves by strengthening their leadership skills and develop in skills where they need to improve.
How does a leader with limited time right now find the time to develop?
I would say it first starts with the leader committing to continuous improvement. Have you ever achieved anything that matters to you that you did not commit to? Nothing ever gets done unless you commit to it. When you commit, it becomes a priority and you take the necessary actions that will enable you to find the time to get it done.
Once you commit, you need to figure out what to focus on regarding your development. Ask yourself, where are you going? Where do you want to be in 5 years from now? What are your leadership strengths? Do these need to be strengthened? What complimentary skills will enable you to strengthen your leadership competencies? What skills do you need to develop that will help you get there? Without a development focus, you tend to try a lot of things that really don’t help you get to where you want to be. You waste precious time seeing if something sticks. This is not an effective development strategy.
An effective development strategy includes assessing your skills as a leader. Many companies have leadership development programs that are designed to build the next level leaders. These programs usually include a leadership competency model for the company and assessment tools, usually a 360 degree instrument to assess your leadership competencies. These assessments provide both quantitative and qualitative data about your leadership strengths and areas for improvements. Companies may also include the services of an outside executive coach who can supplement the development of leadership skills.
If your company does not have such a leadership development program, then develop your own confidential 360 by preparing a series of questions for your direct reports, peers and boss who can confidentially provide you feedback about your leadership strengths and areas of development. You can either conduct interviews in person or develop a questionnaire. You may want to coordinate with your human resource department and have them help you prepare and administer the questionnaire. Questions you can ask include the following:
•What leadership skills do you think are strengths of mine?
•Is there anything I am doing that may be considered a fatal flaw that could derail my career if I don’t address it?
•What leadership skill would have the most impact on the productivity or effectiveness of the department, team or organization?
•What leadership abilities of mine have the most significant impact on you?
Do your best to exhibit receptiveness and to create a feeling of safety or confidentiality. Make it clear that you are seeking self- improvement. Tell your colleagues explicitly that you are open to all feedback, even if it is negative, and that you will absorb the feedback professionally without retribution.
Leaders can also ask to have an outside executive coach conduct a series of interviews with your direct reports, peers and boss and provide you the feedback and help you create a development plan for growth.
No matter which route you take you will need to follow through on the feedback or the process will fail.
Finally, leaders can find the time right now to read leadership books, blogs, and magazines that can help them develop their skills. You have heard the phrase: “ Readers are Leaders.” There is some truth to that statement. Again, as a leader focused on development, commit to find time right now to read and reflect on what you read. The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Fortune magazines frequently have articles on leadership and management. Subscribe today, don’t delay.
There are hundreds of books on leadership. I have read close to a 150 books on leadership. They are all worth it since I usually take one or two main points and apply them to my leadership skills. There are a few that I recommend to start with:
•Leadership is an Art by Max DePree.
•On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis.
•The 7 habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
•Good to Great by Jim Collins.
•The Extraordinary Leader by John Zenger and Joseph Folkman
•The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
•Leadership from the Inside Out by Kevin Cashman
•Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott
Despite all the demands we face, leaders need to find the time to focus on their development and commit to it. By doing so you will not only help yourself but those you serve.