The following is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of Learning Leadership Through Loss.
Professional development requires time, effort, and money. It starts with a decision and continues with commitment. In this new millennium growth is not an option. You must take charge of your knowledge bank and skills set and keep them current. Sometimes that means investing your own financial assets or altering your daily routine. Growth can be an inconvenience. But complacency doesn’t serve. You must produce steadily to retain your leadership position. You must produce even more at a higher level to move on.
Set your goals, and establish criteria for success. Pick a date to dig in your heels. Hire a coach. Refuse to stay stuck. Reject mediocrity. Resist the temptation to coast.
Why bother to increase your knowledge and grow your skills? Here are seven big benefits:
Enhances job performance. If you aren’t conducting regular annual employee evaluations, you are avoiding an important part of your job. Staff deserve formal feedback, and organizations owe it to themselves to track individual strengths and weaknesses. Lack of know-how, outdated process, personal awkwardness, and time constraints are poor excuses for putting this duty on the back burner. Upgrade your own performance by dealing directly with whatever blocks you from fulfilling this managerial obligation. Then schedule the reviews.
Conveys commitment to growth. Reluctant to delegate tasks and projects to others who can do them well? Although this may be a lifelong habit, it’s more likely a form of control you need to release. Start small. For example, you could select someone to represent you at an inconsequential meeting. Solicit agenda highlights later. Decide to delegate at least one item on your to-do list each week. Tell people what you are doing and why. Let your staff, boss, and Board see that you are committed to growth.
Influences others. It’s a fact: The better you communicate, the greater your influence. Communication is a sizable bucket that contains words, volume, tone, speed, pitch, listening skills, facial expressions, body stance, and gestures. In a typical week you probably utilize a variety of communication modes such as emails, phone calls, test messages, memos, letters, and face to face contacts. People form an impression of you based largely upon how you communicate with them. If you’re not getting optimal results from folks in your work environment, you may need to learn some new and different communication skills.
Positions you as “expert.” A basic understanding of any subject or process can move things along in an organization to a certain extent. Today, however, knowledge of the fundamentals may not be enough for real progress to take place. Perhaps you can interpret and implement an already established strategic plan, but you have no idea how to lead key players through the steps to create one. If that’s true, you’ve identified an activity sphere in which you may be wise to advance. Seek formal training and mentoring to reach expert status, and enjoy the fruits of earning your Board’s trust in this area.
Models desired actions and behavior. Whenever you learn something new and use it to benefit your organization, you send a powerful message. Every time you acquire or expand a skill, you set a positive example for others watching you. Demonstrations of your personal and professional growth give staff and volunteers permission to grow. Finally, after months or years of silence, having the courage and ability to initiate difficult but necessary conversations as the need arises lets other people know that it’s okay for them to do the same.
Opens opportunity doors. Knowledge and skill stagnation kill careers. If you are serious about landing a promotion, you must increase your value at work. The person to whom you report has to see consistent evidence of more, bigger, and better contributions from you. One of the most effective ways to prove your readiness to move up is to identify problems, pose several viable solutions, and help to resolve those issues. Problem solving ability is extremely attractive today. Employers look for this skill in the folks they place at the top.
Boosts your credibility. As a leader, you appear more credible to the people around you as you make an earnest, focused effort to develop your skill set. Folks take you seriously, tend to believe what you say, and naturally trust you. It’s a beautiful thing to experience. For instance, as staff observes your commitment to hold yourself accountable in more situations that matter to them, they discover that respect for their boss comes easily. Consider drawing them into your development process by inviting them to “catch” you when you drop the ball. Over time doubts about your motives and ability to deliver are likely to disappear.
How can you minimize or close your knowledge and/or skill gaps? What is your short and long term plan? What resources do you need? What is a reasonable first step? By what date do you promise to take that step?
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