A leadership-development plan is a detailed blueprint of the professional development and learning activities you’re going to engage in during a certain period of time. Its goal is to improve your leadership abilities.
It’s important that your leadership-development plan be well-written, which can take effort, structured thinking, and collaboration. Only a well-thought-out plan will be effective for actual change. If you’ve written it right and keep it in a place where you’ll see it often, you’ll be more motivated to use it.
If you take your time when creating your plan, you’ll come out of the other side with a document that is specific and personalized for your style and needs—and it will be truly motivating because you’ll know it will teach you interesting, valuable skills and make you more satisfied with your career.
Below, you’ll find a simple process to teach you how to create a leadership-development plan.
Writing Your Leadership-Development Plan
Step 1. Write Down Your Initial Development Goals
Jot down some thoughts on why you want to create a leadership-development plan. You might be writing a plan at the beginning of your leadership career to ready yourself for higher-level roles. In the middle of your career, your plan can lead you to greater skills and wider networks. If you’ve reached a top-level management position, a leadership-development plan can help you continue to perform at your highest potential, leading innovation and finding the best opportunities for your organization. Or you might be writing this plan simply to catch up with the latest leadership trends, train with the latest technologies, or correct a known performance problem.
Regardless of where you are in your career, a leadership-development plan can also help you to learn the specific skills you need for overcoming problems you’re facing. Just understand that whatever you write in this step could change later, because you’ll discover more about yourself as you complete the next steps.
Step 2. Study the Traits of Great Leaders
The next step in writing a leadership-development plan is to get inspired by the traits and qualities of great leaders. Because biographies and other materials are readily available, you can see the leadership qualities that have been consistently valued and effective over the span of human history.
Write out a list of your favorite great leaders. Then, write the main leadership qualities that each one displayed. Finally, compile all the abilities, qualities, and competencies of these leaders into one list.
This final list is your picture of the type of leader you dream of becoming. Qualities and skills like honesty, communication, vision, creativity, and so on might seem somewhat abstract at this point, so later steps will help you form concrete plans to develop them.
Step 3. Assess Your Own Personality and Traits
This step requires outside resources you can use to identify your personality, strengths, and temperament. If you’ve already used a tool like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), you could look up your results or take it again. Or you can use a different personality tool, a 360° assessment, an emotional-intelligence indicator, or another assessment appropriate for your needs and goals.
Even though personality assessments can seem imprecise, this step is important. The answers you find can help you personalize your development plan for you and your true temperament instead of for a leader, generally. It can help you make a plan that you’re genuinely interested in, which can make the difference between a plan you actually use and one you don’t.
Step 4. Write Down Your Top Values
Your top values are another aspect of your particular leadership style that you need to put on paper. This is important because leadership traits are defined in slightly different ways by people with different values. Also, your values determine the way you will express those traits, as well as the goals you’ll work toward.
Core values guide your decisions about everything, and they’re very difficult to change. If you know your values, you’ll have a better understanding of how to write an effective plan that will continue to be highly relevant for you in the long term.
Look through a list of core values, such as this one by James Clear, and pick approximately 10 that stand out to you. Then, narrow them down to just a handful that define you the most and that you wouldn’t want to live without.
Step 5. Check Your Self-Perception Against Others’ Opinions
After completing your self-assessment, you might think you have discovered bedrock truth (and this may be true). However, it’s vital to gather some opinions about yourself from others who know you well.
Reach out to several of your most trusted family members, friends, and peers. Ask them to write down the key words that they think describe your habitual behaviors and strengths.
Next, do whatever you can to find out what other employees say about you when you’re not around. You might need to get this information from a trusted peer.
Whether others’ opinions are fair or not, they contribute to your ability to be effective as a leader. You can choose to allow others’ opinions to influence your choices of developmental goals (step 7), or you can choose to ignore them.
If there is a significant disparity between, say, one of your self-assessed personality traits and what others say about your personality, consider whether they could be right. If that’s the case, you may have found another great opportunity for development.
Step 6. Prepare a Personal Vision Statement
Combine your insights from previous steps and turn them into a personal vision statement. This statement will concisely sum up what you’ve learned about yourself and remind you of your purpose.
A personal vision statement might be focused only on your job or might express a larger mission. For example, this is the mission of Oprah Winfrey: “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”
The CEO of Campbell Soup Company, Denise Morrison, has a vision that encompasses a little more: “To serve as a leader, live a balanced life, and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference.”
In contrast, John Rampton, the founder of Hostt.com, has a very business-focused vision statement: “I want to make it so that every person in the world can afford to start their own business.”
When you write your own personal vision statement, make sure to include the following three elements:
- The values and principles that guide your decisions
- The qualities or traits you want to embody
- The main goal or couple of goals you want to achieve
You can always revise your vision statement later! You just need it to be your personal constitution that reminds you of the direction you want to go today. If it stops inspiring you, you can change it.
Step 7. Choose Skills to Develop
Once you have a personal vision statement that expresses your values, personality, and chosen direction, you’re ready to focus on the specific leadership skills you need to develop.
First, write a list of the skills you already have. These skills can fall under categories such as technical, leadership, personal, and interpersonal. Take your time, and list as many skills as you’d like. If you have an up-to-date resume, that can help.
Next, look through your list and indicate which skills are personal strengths and which are areas for development. You can check your perceptions of your strengths and weaknesses against the opinions of trusted peers or mentors.
Finally, compare this list with your list of the traits of great leaders. Would any of the skills marked as areas for development be opportunities for building one of those traits? Would any of these areas for development line up with the weaknesses that others think you have?
Pick out just a few skills you want to learn or improve. It’s vital that these skills support your values and vision. If a skill doesn’t support your vision but, say, makes you look good to others, you probably shouldn’t pick it.
Step 8. Write Ultra-Specific Goals
Next, prioritize the skills you want to learn in order from most to least important. Your top skills might be those that most closely support your vision, affect your career, or make the other skills easier to learn.
Next, based on your list of prioritized skills, write two to three big, audacious goals that will be difficult but inspiring to achieve over the mid to long term. It’s okay if they sound somewhat general.
Then, write a few smaller, incremental goals under each of the big goals to help you move toward them. Make these smaller goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART).
Take your time brainstorming effective methods of learning these skills. You need to come up with methods that will work for you and that you’re committed to following.
Opportunities for learning are all around us, almost all the time, especially in the workplace. Ask yourself if there are big events at work you can use as learning opportunities, along with daily interactions and feedback mechanisms that can help you. You might volunteer to work with a new account or take on an interesting new responsibility. Seek out challenges that will support your vision.
Step 9. Create the Written Plan
At this point, you basically know how to create a leadership-development plan. If you’ve been writing everything down, this step is just to ensure the plan is in a form that will be useful to you.
In a single document, write your personal vision statement, your skill goals, the time-bound steps for achieving each goal, the tools you’ll be using, and the people you can call on to help you.
Make sure the plan is something you will see often, can use while you work, and can modify as needed. You could have it on an office wall, in a digital calendar, in the front of your planner, or wherever else will work for you.
Executing Your Leadership-Development Plan
While you work through your completed leadership-development plan, you should use a regular system of recording your progress. Measuring the progress you’re making can motivate you to keep working toward your goals.
This can also help you avoid getting thrown off track if you encounter a difficult roadblock to your plan or see a new possible direction. When you know exactly where you are in your plan, you can easily modify it to account for new challenges and opportunities.
If you can, recruit a mentor—or a leader who’s above you—to guide you through your plan. You might need to schedule an initial meeting with a potential mentor to show him or her your plan and ask for feedback. If you sense a great connection between you, you might then ask if he or she would be willing to support you in achieving your goals.
Finally, continue reading about and watching other great leaders who you admire. Seeing their qualities and skills will remind you of why you want to develop your own leadership ability, and this will motivate you to keep becoming the best leader you can be. To learn more about developing the leadership pipeline in your organization, contact CMOE.