How are you developing yourself as a leader?
How well can you answer this question? I’m sure some may respond with a deer-in-the-headlights look supported by initial “um, well…uh…” Many others are likely to respond by listing some books, articles, magazines, and/or blogs they’ve read recently – which is great!
But I think my next question would be: Awesome! What else?
I don’t offer this follow-on question judgmentally or pretentiously. I ask it with all the well-meaning intent I can. However, I think only reading and consuming developmental content, even in various available formats, is an insufficient model for self-development. It helps us to gain new information and perspectives for sure, but that alone does not help you process the information, clarify lessons or goals, integrate new approaches into your behavior, or assess growth or effectiveness of it all in your leadership.
Reading for development, while valuable, is insufficient alone for your self-development as a leader. A complete approach to our self-development requires the integration of four activities – goal setting and achievement, seeking feedback, broad knowledge gathering, and reflection.
Setting the Context: Framing Our Leadership
This article is not addressing specific leadership behaviors or approaches. However, we can frame our unique overall leadership approach as a set of personal knowledge, skills, and behaviors (KSBs) that we integrate to achieve our desired leadership impact on our people and organization. Additionally, extensive research demonstrates that improved self-awareness and self-regulation (ability to monitor and manage our energy, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that produce positive results in working with others) directly lead to increased leader effectiveness. So, not only are having the needed or desired KSBs important, but so is being aware of those KSBs and our perceived proficiency in them. Thus, we can model our leadership KSBs and awareness of them in this matrix.
The model displays the different categories of our leadership KSBs and our awareness of our proficiencies with them. Self-awareness of KSBs that we do or don’t have create the top row – known abilities and known gaps. The lower row, lack of self-awareness, shows that that there are still areas of our leadership that we may not be aware of yet. Unknown unknowns, the bottom right quadrant, represents areas of our leadership that we “don’t know what we don’t know.” It means we don’t know about these particular KSBs, if we have them or not, or if they are even relevant to us or not.
Now, when we overlay the four developmental activities on our KSB awareness model, this is how they fit.
Here are a few key takeaways from this perspective of the model:
- The goal is to continue to expand the top row (awareness of KSBs that we do and don’t have), especially the top-left quadrant over time, which is represented as “leader impact” or self-awareness and self-regulation.
- Goal setting best meets the needs of the top-right quadrant (known gaps) to deliberately address and improve our known leadership gaps.
- Feedback targets and informs our unknown leadership abilities. Positive feedback, constructive feedback, and gratitude can all inform our awareness of impacts we may not know that we have. Additionally, feedback can support the right column of the matrix (known gaps and unknown unknowns) as demonstrated by the green arrow in the model.
- Broad knowledge gathering (BKG) helps make us aware of KSBs that we don’t know anything about. This activity informs us about KSBs to then initiate further research of them and/or practice through feedback and goal setting. BKG can also influence our unknown abilities within the bottom-left quadrant, represented by the arrow.
- Lastly, reflection encompasses the entire matrix as it improves each of the other three activities and our overall leader impact.
Ultimately, this is how we can relate the four activities to grow our overall leader impact (self-awareness and self-regulation):
Exploring the Four Activities
We culminate our exploration of the four self-development activities by diving deeper into what each of them are, offering some considerations, providing examples, and list some recommended resources for further research.
Goal Setting and Achievement. This is actively closing leadership impact gaps or other developmental needs by setting clear goals, developing strategies and approaches to achieve them, deliberately committing to them over a prescribed time, and incorporating necessary accountability tools to keep us on track and engaged. As we can see, creating the goal is only one part of the process and is often the easiest part. To effectively use goal setting and achievement as a self-development activity, consider the following:
- Set SMART goals to ensure they are feasible while challenging, and complete.
- Clarify (actually write out) your “why” for this goal to capture the importance of your goal and inspire commitment to it.
- Create a system of mechanisms (activities, routines, events, etc.) that you employ to achieve your goal. As a simple and tangible (non-organizational) example, imagine you set a goal to complete your first marathon by a certain date. Your system of mechanisms to achieve it may include long slow runs, interval runs, tempo runs, rest days, cross-training, disciplined nutrition, stretching and recovery, and so on. No single activity alone will lead to goal accomplishment, but the integration of all helpful mechanisms does.
- Balance lead and lag measures. Lead measures are activities that influence and predict goal achievement. Lag measures are after-the-fact means to measure goal progress. Lead measures are mechanisms of “actively doing this…” while lag measures are “getting that.” We need both to operationalize an active approach to achieving our goal as well as measure progress toward it over time.
- What or who are the forces to hold you accountable toward progress toward and ultimately achieving your goal?
- Ensure we incorporate tracking and celebrating small wins throughout our progress. Success begets success and builds momentum.
- A resource to help approaching goal achievement is the “one big thing” methodology, which I encourage you explore as well.
Seeking Feedback. Feedback is the simplest yet most effective tool to close our “self-awareness gap,” or the distance between our self-perception and others’ perception of us regarding one of our leadership KSBs. We will never recognize this gap or do anything about it if we don’t know others’ perceptions of us through feedback. In this case, we define feedback as any stimulus that provides information about others’ reactions to or perceptions of our behavior or performance, which we can use as a basis for improvement. Explore the following considerations to integrate feedback as a useful self-development activity:
- We cannot simply wait for feedback to come to us. To leverage it for self-development, we must take the initiative and seek feedback out. You can learn more about how to do that in the Feedback Primer Part 3 – leaders creating their own feedback loops.
- The Feedback Primer is a simple, yet comprehensive series exploring the many important dynamics of organizational feedback. You can find all six parts of the series on the Series page HERE or start with part 1 HERE.
- Developmental relationships like mentors and coaches can also be great sources of feedback.
Broad Knowledge Gathering (BKG). BKG helps us gain new knowledge on any relevant leadership KSB. Simply put, BGK educates us on a variety of KSBs or a specific KSB of emphasis. In referring to the introduction of this article, the initial response of reading books, blogs, and articles is a great example of BKG for self-development. This can make us aware of new information or perspectives that we did not have before or help expand on our existing knowledge. Either way, it better equips us for improved practice through goal setting and achievement and seeking feedback. BKG for self-development can include several important considerations:
- From what sources and how do you seek new information on leadership? Why these? Ensure our sources of new leadership information are valid, offer a variety of insights and areas of emphasis, and are helpful for our unique development.
- Remember it is broad knowledge gathering. This includes a variety of topics, perspectives, and sources to create a vast horizon of options. Make sure that all sources (authors) of content you consume don’t have the same background, expertise, and views as you, or even look the same as you.
- Common BKG activities can include any combination of reading books (and listening to audiobooks), podcasts, online articles and blogs, magazines and journals, and even purposeful conversations with peers or other professional colleagues.
- You can explore our resources page to find one set of recommendations, if interested. But remember, that list alone is just one point of view.
- You can also read our 168 Series, which explores common trends of self-development activities. Additionally, the Leaders are Readers Series dives into how we can maximize the developmental impacts of professional reading.
Reflection. This is the process of connecting, clarifying, and making sense of new knowledge and experiences to achieve new, refined, and clarified awareness of KSBs. It enhances our leader effectiveness and each of the other three self-development activities. It is an enduring activity that can always introduce new insights ideas learned long ago when paired with new data. In considering reflection as a self-development activity:
- Know there is no right or best way to reflect. Reflection is a highly unique exercise based on every individual’s learning and processing preferences. Reflection can be structured or unstructured thinking, writing, or even talking. It takes practice (and time) to determine our preferred methods for reflecting.
- I recommend you start with the Reflection Series (find all five parts on the Series page HERE or start with part 1 HERE) to dive deeper into what this seemingly abstract activity can look like. Supplement that reading with the Reflection Webinar recording if you are a visual learner, which simplifies the model even more.
- Mentors are great sources of reflection as well. They provide additional experience to help us think in different ways through different perspectives.
Integrating the Four Activities
I think it’s helpful to end by sharing a personal example of how the four activities work together to support our development. Years ago, I recognized that empathy was a major developmental need of mine; my lack of empathy for others at work was hindering how I connected and built trust with them. Before doing anything else, I tried to just learn more about empathy first. So, I turned to books like Daring Greatly, online articles, and podcasts to better understand what empathy actually is (broad knowledge gathering). I then clarified some targeted behaviors that I could enact to better practice being appropriately and professionally empathetic such as ways of listening, using questions, and so on. I used the one big thing framework to set goals (goal setting) around how I would practice those behaviors, aiming to integrate them into my natural leader approach and habits. As I practiced these targeted behaviors, I sought feedback from trusted agents or those I worked with to assess effectiveness (feedback). Over time and iterations of practice, I spent time thinking about and connecting the feedback I received, my intentions, and how I wanted to continue to shape my authentic leadership style. I’d do this through reflective thinking, processing with mentors and peer coaches, and even writing about it (reflection). Through all these, I improved my understanding of empathy and what it can/should look like in leadership, self-awareness about my proficiency in it, and, finally, deliberate integration of empathy into my leader approach. Using and integrating all four developmental activities towards an aspect of my leadership that needed developing helped make it a key component of my leader effectiveness in the end.
Through this approach of the four developmental activities, I hope you can now better answer the question, “how are you developing yourself as a leader?”
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