As soon as you graduate from college, you’re extremely likely to settle for an entry-level job in your ideal career field. You spend a good amount of time proving yourself to be a professional while also gaining a ton of experience in the process. Now it’s time to work your way up to leadership positions.
I managed to become a Vice President at the age of 30 and had a financial responsibility of about $50 million. This was done without the help of a leadership development plan, all be it with an enormous amount of hard work of course. I wish I knew back then what I know now – a proper plan for your own leadership development can speed up your career substantially.
Any aspiring leader can benefit from creating their own leadership development plan. This can help you to identify where you want to end up in your career and how to get there. You then can pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses, set goals you’d like to meet, and actively work toward your dreams.
Your leadership development plan can impact your entire future, so you want to make sure that you’re creating one correctly. So, let’s go over everything you need to know about creating and using a leadership development plan.
What Is a Leadership Development Plan?
A leadership development plan is an effective method of advancing your career. It helps you to draft where you currently are in your career, where you want to be in your career, and how you plan to get there.
If you develop the right plan and follow it closely, you should be able to earn a leadership position before you know it.
Keep in mind that this is a document that you’ll create on your own time, not as a work assignment given to you by your boss. And, you don’t need a leadership development plan at all. But, it’s a great tool and is probably a step above what your colleagues are doing already. As mentioned, I wish I had had one back in the day. It would have resulted in additional development on my part, that’s for sure.
Importance of a Leadership Development Plan
Unfortunately, just showing up for work every day and doing what your boss asks of you is not enough to secure yourself a leadership position. After all, most of your colleagues are doing the same exact thing.
So, a good leadership development plan will help you to set yourself apart from your coworkers. It’ll also help you to build the skills and knowledge required of a skilled leader.
Here’s a list of what you might gain from creating a leadership development plan.
- Strengths and weaknesses. A good leader is skilled in plenty of areas. Learning about your own strengths and weaknesses allows you the chance to build upon your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses or at least minimizing the exposure of the weaknesses.
- Goals. You’ll be able to figure out the position or responsibilities that you’re looking to reach in your career. This gives you something to work toward and figure out how to get from point A to point B. Knowing this will be fantastic in development talks with your manager since an employee who has an articulated and ambitious target sticks out in a positive way. (Just remember to be realistic at the same time.)
- Things that make a good leader. You know the job title you want, but that doesn’t mean that you’re qualified to be a leader right now. A leadership development plan gives you the opportunity to learn what makes a good leader in the first place and develop those skills.
- Timeline. Having a timeline to accomplish your goals and your dreams is a great motivating factor. Plus, it puts your future leadership position in sight.
Most importantly, creating a leadership development plan is motivating. Just thinking about where you want to be in your career might just be what you need to get the ball rolling on your career advancement.
How to Create a Leadership Development Plan
Your leadership development plan has to be created by you, for you. So, let’s talk about how you can create a leadership development plan to begin advancing your career today. Here are some things you’ll want to ask yourself as part of designing your plan.
Target: Where Do You Want to End Up?
It’s hard to make the effort to obtain a leadership position if you don’t even have a particular position in mind. So, figure out the type of position you’re looking to earn and learn what it actually requires of you. If you find this difficult, you can always start in the other end by listing which leadership positions you don’t want to have. This will shorten the list of potential target positions and make it easier for you. Don’t be too strict, you can aspire for multiple positions, as long as there are enough similarities from a development perspective.
Ask Yourself: What skills and experience must you possess to be successful in those positions?
Closing the Gap: How Do You Get There?
Now that you know what you want to do, you need to figure out how you can get there. Think about your current strengths and weaknesses and how you can work to build upon them. Also, consider how to make your strengths even stronger to set yourself even further apart. How do your strengths and weaknesses match the skills and experience needed for the target position(s)? Identify gaps in your competency, knowledge, experience and skills. What are you lacking today that is required for those positions? Read our article on Coaching Leadership, it can help you to improve yourself as well as others. I actually suggest you read all our articles on leadership styles – it can help you identify skills you want to learn and behaviors you need to avoid.
Ask Yourself: What do I need to develop in order to qualify for the target position?
Improve Your Current Performance: What Do You Need to Be Successful?
Be curious, be reflective. Learn what works and what doesn’t work in your present job by talking to others and reflecting on cause and effect as well as performed actions vs end result. You will not master your job by accidentally reaching good results every now and then. Find the recipe for success, figure out the secret sauce so you can go from succeeding sometimes to overachieving constantly.
It’s also safe to say that sticking to your normal job tasks probably won’t be enough you to build your base of knowledge or skills. That means you’ll have to go off on your own and get a little more training under your belt. You can do this by enrolling in some type of leadership courses, taking related workshops, or even beginning a degree program.
Ask Yourself: How can you help yourself to be more successful in your current job?
Define Progress: How Will You Know You’ve Succeeded?
A leadership development plan without any form of action is obviously useless. But, you also need to have clear-cut events and targets that’ll prove you’ve been successful in working toward your goal. So, identify the things that need to happen or the things you need to do to show you’ve been successful in developing yourself. This could be finalizing a course, reading some specific books, improving different KPIs at work, crunching through your email faster than before etc. Use your imagination to find measurements or milestones in your development journey.
Ask Yourself: What will help to prove you’ve made progress?
Perpetual Development: How Will You Continue Progressing?
Even when you’re in a leadership position, gaining knowledge and new skills should always be a top priority. That means you should have some type of leadership development plan (or a personal development plan), even when you’re in a leadership role. So, think about how you plan to continue making progress once you’re in a leadership position. I am currently leading a company of more than 1000 employees and I am developing faster now than ever before. So, don’t see a leadership development plan as a 90 day thing. However, it is ok to not always have the answer to this. Just ask yourself regularly how you will continue progressing. Keeping that actual in your mind will push you to strive further as you define new targets.
Ask Yourself: What will you do even further into the future?
Elements of a Leadership Development Plan
Now, it’s time to put all the pieces together. The formatting or your leadership development plan is really up to you, but there are some key things you’ll definitely want to include in your leadership development plan. So, let’s go over the three key elements to the perfect leadership development plan.
Note: Each of these can be broken down into columns or rows in your plan.
The “what” section of your leadership development plan shouldn’t just be your dream career title. It should include all the different goals you need to achieve before earning the leadership position you have your eyes on, including personal and professional skills you need to work on. List out each one in its own row or column individually. You can add additional items later on, you will come up with new things down the road, for sure.
The “how” section of your plan is about ways you can make concrete progress towards individual goals. That can include showing progress in your current job, reading book A or putting in X number of hours at leadership courses. And, you should definitely include more than one task or action per goal to meet it on all fronts. Break everything down into pieces small enough to chew, one at a time. If you only have huge items on your list, you won’t see progress until you have completed which isn’t motivating at all.
The “when” section focuses on the timeline. You want to be making consistent progress and prove that you’re able to meet the goals that you’re setting for yourself. Own your plan, own your performance. Being a leader includes holding people accountable, and how can you ever do that if you cannot hold yourself accountable for your own development? You also want to set an ideal deadline to help you to stay on track, so make sure to include a section for your ideal timeline and the actual completion date of each goal.
Don’t let delays or slippage become an excuse to abandon that part of the plan. It is better to get there late than to never even get there at all.
Adapt the plan regularly depending on internal as well as external changes. If your targets change, your plan should change. If you wanted to become a CFO and realized a year later that you fit much better in sales, then reevaluate and change your plan. No need to continue on the preset path for the sake of completing it. As a leader, you need to be capable of adapting to change, and that applies to yourself as well.
The Development plan of a Senior Leader
I will give you an example on developmental items. I often set myself up with KPIs as a new year starts, both concerning the professional side of things as well as the personal side of things. These are a bit more simplistic than described above, but it’s ok to simplify the process once you have really gotten your mind into it. (I have been a leader for more than fifteen years. Unless you have been a leader for at least ten years, I suggest you stick to the script outlined previously in this article.)
I list a number of items and areas that I need to ensure delivery on and some items I need to develop and create more of a personal change, not just deliver results. Here is what was on my list a few years ago. We had just moved to a new country at the time.
- Professional: Company Sales (part of my bonus plan)
- Professional: Company Cash Flow (part of my bonus plan)
- Professional: Company Operating Profit (part of my bonus plan)
- Professional: Service business growth (this was important to me, so I needed some extra focus on this one)
- Personal: Get better at Sales, meet X number of customers this year
- Personal: Go for a run X times a month and improve running speed from Y to Z
- Personal: Expand my network – meet X new people outside of work
I broke down these areas into KPIs per month, showing growth as required. For instance, if I started out at Index 100 and I wanted to reach 120 by December, I might have had 102 in February, 105 in March etc. so I could measure my progress along the way and quickly become aware of lack of progress etc.
Did I complete everything in the end? No, I didn’t. Some things did not meet the end target state, but I overachieved on some other items. I am very confident that I got further than I would have without this plan and tracking my progress throughout the year. I am certain of that.
A leadership development plan has the potential to speed up your career and help you to achieve a more advanced position than otherwise. But, you need to make sure that you’re developing a plan that’s personal to you and you need to keep it updated as you move forward.
So, think about where you plan to go in your career and consider how you can get from point A to point B. Consider other ways to build upon your current skills and an ideal timeline for the completion of your plan.
Your goal is to earn a leadership position, but you need to prove that you’re capable of handling one first. Start by leading yourself through positive change and development resulting in you being a more skilled person as you move forward.
Finally: good luck in your development, I sincerely hope you manage to improve yourself and reach the position you desire!