If you are reading this article, then you are ahead of most when it comes to furthering your business and leadership knowledge. Great leaders are great learners. Many businesspeople scoff at leadership advice, thinking that no article or book - or even a training class - is a good substitute for real-life experience.
That may be true, but real-life leadership experience can be hard to come by for those who seek to advance. I believe that anyone can succeed if they prepare themselves for the next level in their careers. To do so, you must exploit every opportunity to learn. Here are 10 ways to take control of your leadership development.
- Hone a Learning Mindset: Having a positive attitude towards professional development is vital. In an interview with McKinsey Quarterly, Tom Peters discussed the importance of leaders having "unscheduled time" (up to 50 percent). What should they do with that time? He advised, "One way to deal with the insane pace of change is by living to get smarter and to learn new things." Set aside time to learn on a regular basis.
- Examine Your Decisions: One difference between great leaders and mediocre ones is a willingness to examine past actions and decisions in order to improve. For CEOs and executives, designate a devil's advocate for all major decisions. This can help you make better decisions and prevent any decision-making biases.
- Read Regularly: In the same interview with McKinsey Quarterly, Peters said, "I was at a dinner party recently with a guy who's probably one of the top ten finance people in the world. At one point he said, 'Do you know what the biggest problem is with big-company CEOs? They don't read enough.'" Read widely, not only about current events but also subjects that can broaden your horizons, such as history. I am an avid reader of business books and almost always find an idea or two that I can use in my businesses.
- Write Regularly: Writing has multiple benefits for leaders. It can help you master the content, improve your critical thinking skills, and enhance communication with your various audiences, including employees. The more you publish, the better your writing will become. It can also help build awareness for yourself as an expert in your field.
- Attend Training Programs: Books and articles only take you so far. I teach an annual class for CEOs, and in my experience these CEOs are already ahead of the game just by showing up. They are committed to learning and even at their level have figured out how to make time for it. You can also find valuable networking opportunities here.
- Teach What You Know: Ana Maria Sencovici of The River Group recently wrote that teaching is one of the most underused tools in leadership development. I agree. There is no better way to master something than by trying to impart your knowledge and skills to others. It makes you think about the material in new ways. In my experience, sometimes you learn more from your "students" than they do from you. Take advantage of opportunities to teach.
- Build Self-Awareness: While it may sound cliché, self-awareness is critical to effective leadership. Executive coach Mary Jo Asmus recently wrote that the best leaders "discover their development goals by staying aware." They deliberately "observe themselves as they go about their workday while focusing on others' reactions at the same time." Then, they take the time to think about what they've observed, in order to make improvements.
- Gather Feedback: Asmus also wrote that great leaders ask for feedback. You should actively solicit feedback from your employees, your board, and anyone else in a position to provide valuable input. Institute an anonymous feedback mechanism for your employees or engage with a third-party gatherer.
- Find Mentors: Develop relationships with people who have been in your shoes. Speaking of feedback, mentors or coaches are often in a position to give you objective advice that you may not get on the job. Find someone who will give you honest, unvarnished input.
- Cultivate Peer Relationships: You should develop relationships with as many people in your industry as possible. This is important for keeping up with developments and gaining new perspectives and ideas. The relationships I have formed within my industry have often provided great value to my companies.
Don't let the fast pace of business prevent you from developing as a leader. After all, the dynamism of today's markets is partly why you need to keep learning in the first place.