You should be doing something to develop your leadership capabilities at least weekly, and I can tell you how. When it comes to leadership development, most leaders are faced with two challenges. They are either too busy with other priorities or, given the overcrowded leadership landscape, they don’t know where to start to find high-quality leadership development.
As a result, leaders either ignore their development altogether, take a transactional, check-the-box approach doing an activity or two per year to develop themselves, or they invest their time in the wrong activities. You simply cannot expect results with that approach, and leadership is too important to miss the mark.
Here are two important realities. First, leadership development does not need to be overly time consuming or expensive to be effective. Second, opportunities for low-cost, high-impact leadership development are all around. You just need to know where to look and how to make the most of existing activities.
So on to the big question. How.
You may have heard the recommendation for physical fitness that before you begin any fitness routine, you should consult your physician. Your leadership fitness is no different. Before you begin any leadership development endeavor, you need an accurate assessment of how you are showing up as a leader in order to know what you should work on.
Tip No. 1: Complete a good, reliable leadership 360 assessment and get the one-hour (or so) feedback and coaching, if that is an option. For the good ones, it is usually offered. The results and coaching will help you focus in on your strengths and areas for improvement. Ultimately, they will help you develop your game plan and ensure you make the most of your time and efforts.
Tip No. 2: Over time and with practice, develop your ability to self-assess your leadership skills. It is not a substitute for a formal assessment which you should complete every 12-18 months. However, try giving yourself a grade on general leadership or specific leadership skills such as giving an employee feedback or presenting to the executive team, or a number of other regular leadership responsibilities. The grade is less important than your rationale for the grade.
Although there are limitations with self-assessment data, as you become more accurate, it will allow you to refine your skills in the moment rather than waiting a year or more for your next formal assessment. For example, if for several weeks you find yourself giving yourself anything other than an "A" in an important aspect of leadership such as employee feedback, refocus your efforts on what is needed to elevate your performance in that area.
With feedback in hand, you should hone your game plan. Identify the activities you can incorporate into your regular routine.
Tip No. 3: Incorporate ways to elevate your leadership game at least weekly. Like any important endeavor, you must put in the effort if you want optimal results. Think about the development the same way you would think about your physical fitness. You need to build your core and maintain flexibility.
Build your core by knowing all aspects of your business, understanding the competitive landscape, and honing your technical and leadership expertise through trade publications and podcasts. There are a wide variety of activities you can pursue to maintain your flexibility such as having a mentor, teaching others,
Tip No. 4. Pause, reflect, and re-energize. You need time to process information. Leaders today face increasing demands, and that is showing no signs of declining. If you continue to run your engines on high, you risk burnout. Even the most elite athletes in the world understand the importance of recovery time. It is part of their routine.
If you want to be an elite leader and if you want learning to stick, you need to do the same. Learning works through a combination of action, feedback, and reflection. Leaders have no shortage of action. However, leaders I’ve worked with face a shortage when it comes to feedback and reflection. Feedback allows us to calibrate a new point of view against a currently held one, and reflection allows us to make sense of the amount of information coming at us.
This needs to be self-driven. Build in formal, structured time to unplug, and use that time to reflect and re-energize. When reflecting, think about what worked well for a recent activity, what could be improved, and how you would approach similar activities in the future.
When you incorporate leadership development into your regular routine -- at least weekly -- you are working toward your peak leadership fitness. Using the tips provided in this article, take that first, or next step today.
Tim Tobin is a leadership expert and the author of “Peak Leadership Fitness” and “Your Leadership Story”. He is a frequent leadership speaker and draws upon his experience as a finisher of seven Ironman triathlons and over a dozen marathons provide fitness principles and tips to be at your personal and leadership best.