This leadership article was originally written in 2009.
I get a lot of questions about how to develop a personal development leadership plan for both self and a peer and/or client. So instead of pontificating about what the right way to do this SHOULD be. I thought I’d try and analyze how I would do it/have done it for myself, and hopefully you can glean some good lessons learned from it.
But before we get into details, remember: A good personal leadership development plan is goal intimate. That means it has to build around the end goal.
Let me start by telling you what I know about leadership…
I have learned much in the past few years about leaders and leadership. In fact, one can say that the knowledge gained by the research and discussions have truly changed my perspective on leaders and leadership as I progressed through my career. I began my leadership journey with a view that leaders need only possess specific traits and skills in order to be successful. That all they needed was to have the “right stuff” and that they can overcome any difficult leadership situation.
Whether the challenge is a development of leadership skills traits or to understand the leadership process and apply it effectively or otherwise, as an independent consultant, I felt that I had to become a resourceful and effective leader that relies on influencing through expert knowledge, because I do not ever possess direct control as internal managers do. But this influence must be developed in the context of both an overall industry context and an organizational context.
However, as I saw more examples, learned of the literature in leadership and engaged in active discussions around the subject I saw more and more that leadership is a complex and fluid concept that cannot be easily grounded in a single theory, concept or practice.
Leadership is many things to many people at many times and in many situations.
For example, I am independent in the field of human capital, but also, I am part of whatever organization I am supporting at the time that I choose to support. Without the context of an organization, it would be difficult to define any leadership qualities that I possess or that I will need to develop. And without the context of the human capital field, I would fail in recognizing the bottom line or any transactional qualities, processes or ways of thinking that I must adopt, because learning in the context of a single organization is different from learning in the context of many organizations in a single field. Therefore, my context will need to be based on both organization and field.
As a professional you must influence in a field and in organizations where these symptoms are especially prevalent, and the tide is not currently moving in the direction of least resistance. Therefore, you must develop exceptional leadership qualities and processes to function well in both contexts.
Then, how does that affect your personal leadership development plan?
First, we must re-discuss the context of my leadership and expand it.
There are many types of leadership styles and processes (Northouse, 2009) and most do not require professional contexts or professional skills.
Let us assume that leadership is a process that as it is used, the user gains experience in its usage and becomes more proficient in its use. Although this assumption is not based on empirical evidence (that I could find), it is a reasonable assumption that is proven in other contexts that as human beings engage in a particular task, they gain skill in performing that task. Based on this assumption, and my findings that there are many types of excellent leadership methods and processes that I can utilize, then the logical conclusion from the integration of these two points would be that I must learn many leadership processes (ways to lead) in much more than only a professional context, in order for me to learn the necessary leadership skills and processes that create the opportunity for success.
Thus, my context in itself will need to expand and not only the types of leadership theories that I use in order to gain success.
I look towards a diverse set of leadership models to illustrate this. For example, through this course I found that I have a high affinity for authentic leadership, that I can be transformational and visionary but that I also can apply highly inspirational methods of leadership in some contexts.
Several of these leadership processes overlap in my individual assessment and some depend on the situation (situational leadership). Therefore, your goal should be more adaptable to any given situation and to use whatever method is more appropriate for a given situation. This of course is naturally occurring in any case in a subconscious way (Northouse, 2009), but the goal is to be more aware of it to bring my ability to control my behavior and strategic leadership to a conscious level. Hersey and Blanchard’s 1969 article insists that the 4 behaviors of situational leadership should contain telling, selling, participating and delegating and that a leader’s effectiveness is based on task maturity and psychological maturity. This is a situational leadership approach.
Again, my objective is to be more conscious of the situation (this includes the context) so that I may react accordingly. Thus the essence of reacting based on a given situation is embedded in those behaviors. Through self-reflection and evaluation I have found that those are behaviors that I do not exemplify.
Without regarding those behaviors I will always be unable to react according to the context and the situation to difficulties and issues or even simple tasks. From the model I fall into the S1 and D1 categories and so my objective would be to more to a S2, D4 behavior model in order to be label to face future challenges. In other words, I will need to adopt more supportive and collaborative behavior while retaining my high directive behavior in the context of project management (Transactional based leadership is more effective for projects and this requires high directive behavior).
This brings us back to broadening the context of leadership. Learning more supportive behavior might be better done in a social context and not necessarily in a professional one. In essence, if in my social interactions I can learn to be more supportive then translate the skills and thought processes to a professional setting, I may have more success in fully implementing this. In social situation the risk of failing a specific task carries with a lesser consequence (in general) than in professional ones. When in a professional context, the risk of failure dominates and then it becomes very difficult take a more supportive approach. Again, under the initial assumption that when one uses particular leadership tools, one gains experience and becomes more effective in using these tools this is valid. My objective then would be to learn how to be more supportive and participative in an easier to manager context (in this case a social context) and then translate my skills slowly in professional situations.
This method if applied correctly would give you more agility in my leadership and cognitive abilities and might mitigate the effect of my natural traits and even cultural methods.
In addition to developing situational leadership skills and expanding the context in which I will develop my leadership, I must also learn how to transform my followers. In my industry, change must occur in order for the profession to grow. However, resistance to this is great from inside and outside the field. Authoritarian, supportive, collaborative, inspirational, charismatic, and trait and skills leadership methodologies may not necessarily allow for this necessary change. Thus, transforming the industry based on the relevant research and methods available must be the goal of every H.R/H.C professional.
However, transformational leadership is based on the ability and process of changing yourself and others toward a positive goal. In this case, changing myself would be to become more transformational, and a positive goal would be to improve the quality of the H.R and H.C professional, which will result in the improvement of our industry.
Fortunately, this aligns well. If I am to transform myself into a better, more supportive and collaborative leader, did I not just transform myself completely?
This became an interesting question as I wrote this post.
Is transformational leadership transformational in its own right? In other words, if I am able to transform myself into a better leader and in so doing transform others through whatever methods I choose to employ, did I simply apply transformational leadership? Are there no skills to learn? After some evaluation of those questions, I came to the conclusion that the basic definition of transformational leadership must apply here. This definition concentrated on the change that the leader experiences, the change that the follower experiences and the positive goal that both strive to accomplish.
Intrinsic in this statement is the specificity of a task to be accomplished and that it must be done in a positive way. Both allow for transformational leadership to take place.
Taking this entire analysis back to my initial points and then comparing them:
- Become a better leader
- Change my industry
- Get a seat at the table
My original context:
- Sometimes based on an individual organization
New Goals and Contexts
- Become a more flexible leader
- Use a broader context for my change (to include social as well as professional)
- Learn new leadership methods and skills in contexts that are more appropriate and then transfer the skills to other contexts where there is more difficulty
- Changing yourself will change others in the process which will yield changing the industry.
And thus, in turn, the table will come to the industry if we deliver leadership.
In short, your plan would be to interact in social situation in a more collaborative and supportive manner while developing cognitive flexibility in the process.
To do this you must continue to keep a journal to evaluate yourself on a daily basis-Changing behavior cannot occur without re-visiting old behavior.
Refrain from authoritarian or bad behavior in the professional context as a beginning, and once a comfort level has been developed in a social context with supportive behavior, begin to transfer those types of behaviors and thinking processes to less stressful professional situations.
If I am able to do so and compel others to do so as well then I utilize the models of transformational leadership as well and would be label to change others (as well as myself) to accomplish the goal of changing my industry for the better.
Finally, it is important to note that for you good leadership must possess a goal or an objective. Leadership is a strategic tool in a corporate setting and strategies need goals. Then what happens if the goals change? Should it not be intuitive that the strategies must change also? Yet, many believe that leadership must be good but static. “I choose to be an inspirational leader” one might say. I disagree with that approach.
Again I go back to the first statement in this paper. I learned that leadership is a fluid subject—A subject in constant change. If a person’s goals do not change but leadership as a concept does, and certain types of leadership theories help accomplish certain goals, then by deduction his/her leadership style must also change. If the opposite is correct (leader stagnation and goals change) wouldn’t the leadership style still require change.
From this, and as a final note, you must conclude that this plan is a short term plan and that it will continuously be in flux (as it should be).