Your 2014 Leadership Development Goals – Get Them Off The Page And Into Reality

It’s that time of year – you’re setting your goals for 2014, including your own development goals. Yet, perhaps your files are cluttered with the evidence of past development resolutions that didn’t fully materialize. How can you approach your development goals differently this year, so that you actually reach your vision for yourself? Here are some guidelines.


Get real about what’s an attainable goal.
It’s useful to understand what can and can’t be changed in your leadership style. What you can develop is usually related to your perspective – learning to see and value things differently, which then opens up new options for behavior. For example, you can become a better coach. You can get better at having difficult conversations. Harder to change are qualities that are fundamental to your character – introversion vs. extroversion, detailed vs. big-picture thinking. Usually such qualities are both a strength and a weakness, depending on the circumstance. It’s always going to be an uphill battle trying to change these – though you can do a better job of managing their downsides.

Janet was a visionary leader whose pitfall was execution. She realized she would never become great at execution, or enjoy it. But she did learn to increase her appreciation of the importance of execution, and made sure she surrounded herself with people whose role was to create a road map for realizing the vision and ensure that the road map was executed.


Understand the forces sustaining your current behavior.
If you’ve had the desire to change a particular behavior for a while – say, you want to delegate more, or spend more time with your direct reports – chances are that your current behavior endures for a reason. If you don’t figure out that reason, it will continue to inhibit your changing.

Malcolm wanted to spend less time firefighting and more time strategizing. He realized that he was reluctant to step away from jumping into problem-solving because of the personal joy he got from it. He also realized that he held an assumption that he was the only person who could properly address the problems. Without addressing these drivers and assumptions, any resolution he made to delegate more wouldn’t be sustainable.


Enlist allies in your development.
It’s harder to change when you don’t have people helping you change. If they’re not helping you change, then they’re helping you stay the same. They continue to see you in old ways even though you’re trying to act different. They engage with you in ways that provoke the old behaviors. This is not their fault – it’s just that you haven’t made your goals explicit and contracted with them to help you.

Samantha’s colleagues were frustrated because she kept her evolving plans and ideas to herself until her ideas were fully formed. They interpreted her behavior as reflective of a “hidden agenda,” though this was not her intent. She started trying to share her evolving ideas earlier on, but realized this wasn’t enough to change people’s inferences about her motives. She met with each of her key colleagues to share her development goal and ask them to provide her with feedback on an ongoing basis. This conversation itself made a huge shift in how those colleagues perceived her.


Get concrete, every day.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is anticipate and rehearse your opportunities to put the behavior into practice daily. Think about the important interactions you’ll be having today, and how you can manifest your intended behavior in those settings. Get it down to a script. Afterwards, reflect on how closely you approached your desired way of being – and, if you didn’t get there, what got in the way. These specific episodes are the vehicle by which you will ingrain the new habit and surface the beliefs and assumptions that are impeding change. In a previous post, I wrote about using such “action experiments” to surface the thinking processes that keep you stuck.

Jim wanted to get better at having dialogue with his direct reports, rather than just telling them what to do. Every morning he would anticipate his one-on-ones with them, and plan how he would make those more of a dialogue. At the beginning, he went completely “off-script” in those conversations, using his habitual telling style despite his good intentions. He realized that, when he got into the meetings, he felt anxiety about asking open questions for fear that his reports would not be able to answer, thus justifying his need to tell them what to do. With that insight, he was able to experiment with asking questions in order to test his concern that his reports wouldn’t have answers. Lo and behold, he discovered that they did indeed have insights to contribute. This shifted his perspective and made it easier to create more dialogue in subsequent conversations.


What strategies have you tried for implementing your leadership development resolutions? We’re eager to hear about them.

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