Given the significance quality leaders have on a company’s performance, it’s no wonder that leadership development has grown into an expensive industry. But not all leadership development programs have to be expensive. There are many do-it-yourself options out there that are sometimes just as effective.
“How you manage determines whether you’re just a manager or leader,” said John Wright, president and founder of Simple Leadership Strategies, a management training and consulting firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. Being a leader is the goal, especially among executives.
Although there are many valuable online leadership development programs to choose from, Wright said in-person learning is the most effective. Naturally, development programs can help executives improve their leadership styles, but not all companies offer classes. Even those with access to learning and development programs might prefer a more personalized approach.
According to a McKinsey Quarterly article from 2014, nearly two-thirds of business executives said that leadership development was their top concern. Moreover, “30 percent of U.S. companies admit that they have failed to exploit their international business opportunities fully because they lack enough leaders with the right capabilities.”
Therefore, it’s time for current and future leaders to take matters into their own hands. “The most important thing that I as an individual can do is own my career,” said Michael Baker, practice leader for talent development at Vantage Leadership Consulting, a business management consulting firm based in Chicago. “If I own my career, that is so much of the battle.”
The second most important thing a learner can do is be mindful of what it is they should focus on and how that connects with the organization and its business strategy. This will help enhance the value of what’s learned. “The more I can apply what I’m learning, the better I’m going to learn it, the more I’m going to be able to use it,” he said.
Asking for help and resources from superiors and peers can also help, Baker said. This helps the learner’s superior know about the development plan and connect the learner’s work with their development, tying the two together.
Wright also found that the immediate supervisor’s attitude and response is important to the learner. The supervisor should provide feedback to the employee to convey that they, too, are committed to the learning process and that they’re excited to hear more about it. “Without that, it’s probably not going to work,” he said.
Frequently gaining other points of view can also be a way to develop leadership skills. Gathering insights from peers and superiors helps up-and-coming leaders to understand their strong suits and better comprehend what to improve on but initiative is often required, said Jamie Resker, founder and practice leader at Employee Performance Solutions, a training and consulting firm in Dedham, Massachusetts. “Nobody’s going to just voluntarily tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, I have some feedback for you.’ That doesn’t happen because people are conflict averse.”
Rather, Resker suggested that leaders get feedback on the spot by asking “clarifying” questions and “one thing” questions. Clarifying questions easily occur after compliments, when the up-and-coming leader can ask for specifics. For example, if a co-worker said they liked a presentation, a natural follow-up is to ask what it was that they liked, specifically. This helps to understand more of what peers enjoy and what works. An example of a one thing question would be, “What’s one thing that I’m doing that’s working?”
Resker said that asking questions in the right way and on the spot means there’s more opportunity for feedback than a typical performance review. “There’s nothing like learning in the moment,” Resker said. Also, this method of development is free, she said.
Vantage Leadership Consulting’s Baker said that low-cost leadership development can be effective. However, it’s on the learner to own that development and connect the topics learned to the work being done. This can be difficult, but “people learn best when they’ve made a mistake,” he said. The process of learning requires trial and error. This can be daunting, but without leadership development, “you will plateau,” Baker said. Developing oneself leads to a greater ability to add value to an organization and to best manage staff, leading to an overall better business.
In addition to the above methods of leadership development, Baker created a list of online providers: