Leadership is not a one-stop destination. The best leaders have evolved over time, and know that they always have something more to learn.
As such, how you plan to self-assess and continually evolve as a leader is an essential component to consider when planning your career.
Such plans may come into the regular goals you set for yourself, or they may simply be factored into your weekly routine.
See all parts in this series here.
Tracy McLeod, the CEO of White Ribbon Australia, refers to leadership as being like building a muscle. She regularly speaks with other leaders in order to learn from them and to also offer support in return where she can. “I’m never afraid to say, ‘I’m vulnerable’ or ‘I don’t have the knowledge’. I directly ask for the help I need, and get enough smart people around me who can offer such advice. But you have to give back. You can’t suck people dry. It’s a karmic circle.”
From there, McLeod also participates in formal professional development and education in order to develop the gaps in her experience and skills. She says it’s often the fellow students you meet during formal education who can be the most valuable in helping you to not only evolve personally, but also to get through certain challenges in your career or business.
From speaking with mentors and supporters to formal education, there are numerous ways to set yourself up to evolve as a leader. The following plays will help.
Your schedule is full. You’re already busy enough. Why would you make things even more frantic by factoring in learning and development? Because it’s necessary in order to grow, to stay on top of change, to be promotion-ready and to set yourself up to be the best possible leader you can be. See learning and development as a priority that’s either planned into your week or potentially into your year, whether that’s formal learning or simply aiming to read up on new subject areas. See the importance in evolving your leadership capabilities as motivation for putting in the time, effort and financial investment if necessary.
Surround yourself with a diverse team
If you want to learn on the job, then do so by surrounding yourself with a diverse range of people. This could be in your own team, if you’re lucky enough to be able to hire your own people, or it could be achieved by the people you surround yourself with more broadly across the organisation, or in the network you build externally. You’ll learn very little being surrounded by mirror images of yourself. So make diversity a priority. Listen and learn from the different ideas and varying points of view these people share. Ensure everyone around you has the opportunity to be heard.
Take on the terminology and trends that terrify you
It’s easy to hear emerging trends and terminology – particularly in the technology space – and consider it too out of scope to bother learning about. Or worse, that we’re ‘too old’ to catch on. In some cases, we may fear what change such emerging technologies will bring, and simply hope they go away or leave our little part of the world untouched. Instead of ignoring these trends, have the courage to take them on. Set aside dedicated time and space to learn about them. Open your mind to new books and media sources on such issues and explore the vast range of free courses that are available on everything from coding to cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
Know and acknowledge your strength and weaknesses
There are numerous self-assessment tools available online that can help you determine your strengths and weaknesses – and such tools can be taken again at later points in order to measure your desired progress. If you have ambitions for a key role or level of leadership you’d like to attain in the near future, or ultimately in your career, then you need to be able to identify and acknowledge the gaps in your experience and skill set, and consider how you might be able to fill them.
Ask mentors and sponsors to help
You’re probably (or at least should be) already seeking regular feedback from your mentors and sponsors. But also ask them to provide some direct ideas and advice on what they perceive to be the gaps in your skill set. From there, they should be able to share some ideas or avenues you can take in order to plug those gaps.
Know your intention when pursuing further education
Pursuing a degree on top of full-time or even part-time work is a significant and often expensive commitment. If you’re merely doing it for a piece of paper, you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons. As leadership coach Megan Dalla-Camina advises, it’s important to know exactly why you’re pursuing further education – and if your circumstances or goals change, that it’s okay to also reassess what you’re doing. While Dalla-Camina’s completed an MBA and a second master’s degree since starting her management career, she says that halfway through a PhD, she had to concede that it was time to stop.
Read and stay ahead of the trends
You’ve probably heard before the many examples of well-known leaders with a ferocious appetite for reading, like Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. They do this to stay ahead of the curve: to be up to date on current affairs and ideas, to understand their industry inside and out, and to open themselves up to the possibility of evolving into other industries or areas.