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Become a Wildly Better Leader by Creating a Leadership Development Plan

May 31, 2022

How often do you as a leader feel like you’re “winging it?” You’d never admit that to your team, of course, but there’s an underlying worry saying, “if only they knew. They’re going to realize it soon enough.” Without a leadership development plan, this is likely your norm.

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One of my Leadership Academy students and Community members recently phrased leadership as navigating waters on the open sea, and I thought that was brilliant.

She said, “there will be times when the water is perfect and everything feels easy. Then there will be times when the waters get rough and you need to dig deep and dig into the water and figure out what you need to work on.”

I couldn’t have said it better. This is why creating a leadership development plan is key to healthy leadership. You can’t control the waters, but you shouldn’t just wait until the waters get rough to learn how to navigate them. You need to do some practicing beforehand.

Of course, experience creates wisdom, right? You can practice all you want, but it’s not until you navigate the lows, the challenges, and the trials of leadership that you feel qualified in your position as leader. 

But, with a leadership development plan you can highlight right now your weaknesses you want to grow in, your knowledge gaps you want to fill, and your strengths you want to hone and tone. With a great leadership development plan, you’ll have your own custom training program of sorts, working now to give yourself the tools you’ll need when those waters get tough.

(Before I move on, I need to thank Becky Brunner of Choose Happy Assisting for that analogy. It’s honestly one of the best descriptions of leadership I’ve heard to date, so let’s give her a cheer, shall we?)

What is a leadership development plan?

A leadership development plan is a strategic plan of action crafted from internal reflection and acute awareness of your current leadership state. A strong leadership development plan outlines your current strengths, weaknesses, skills, and knowledge gaps you have right now as a leader and it paints a picture of where you want to be in a certain amount of time, usually one year. 

A great leadership development plan outlines specific steps, projects, intentions, new behaviors and routines, actions – the very steps you’ll need to take to get you from Point A (where you are now) to Point B (where you want to be in one year). 

Here are a few things a great leadership development plan does and does not do. A great plan:

  • DOES have a time constraint. You should be re-evaluating your growth and progress consistently and regularly. Every six to twelve months is a good rule of thumb.
  • DOES limit your focus. You should not be working on all of your weaknesses and knowledge gaps at once. Pick the most advantageous to you right now – the actions that will provide the best and most needed results in this season. 
  • DOES NOT need to be templated. You can write this on the back of a napkin at Denny’s for all I care. It doesn’t have to look fancy or like someone else’s – this is your plan.
  • DOES NOT overwhelm you. It should give you peace. It shouldn’t be a list of things you’re blaming yourself for or a list of ways you’re “failing” your team or yourself. This is a joyful and hopeful look at how you want to nurture yourself. This is a gift to your leadership and a blessing to your team – that is all.

Components of healthy leadership – what to cover in your plan

So, let’s look at how you are showing up as a leader, both for yourself and for your team. Here we will explore the definitions of eight essential leadership competencies – four for self leadership and four for team leadership.

Self-Leadership Competencies

Self Awareness: Essentially, self-awareness is the ability to observe and reflect on how your actions, thoughts and behaviors align (or don’t align) with your values, boundaries, and ultimate goals.

Self Management: This function builds on self-awareness and adds a management component – how well are you able to “get back on track,” to re-align your actions, thoughts and behaviors to your values and goals.

Learning & Stretching: This not only builds your knowledge, competencies and skills, but trains your brain to be curious – an essential strength for leaders.

Self Care: How well do you take care of your holistic wellbeing – mind, body, spirit, emotions?

Team Leadership Competencies

Mentorship: This is your ability to see and believe in the potential of others and to coach them toward achieving that potential.

Communication: Your ability to establish clear expectations, to actively listen, and to establish open pathways for collaboration.

Trust: This is your ability to trust others and to engage the trust of others. A culture of trust gives your team security, knowing they are safe to be authentic, vulnerable, and to take risks.

Vision & Values: This is your ability to communicate why what you’re doing matters. What’s at stake if you fail and what’s promised if you succeed?

Of course, these competencies aren’t the end-all-be-all of leadership. Feel free to explore your own core values and add them to this list along with any areas of knowledge, skills and gifts you prioritize.

How do you begin creating a leadership development plan?

As leadership expert and author Michael Hyatt often says, “Self-leadership precedes team leadership.” Practicing observation and self-reflection is the first step to awareness. This is key to being able to successfully coach and lead ourselves as we do our team.

Because the bottom line is this – how we lead ourselves becomes how we lead our teams. Do you stifle and avoid emotions? You’ll likely avoid hard conversations or emotional connection with team members. Do you break your own boundaries and barrel toward burn out? You’ll create a culture of team members who see themselves as machines, not as creative innovators. 

To craft a great leadership development plan you need to:

  1. Spend some time observing yourself as a leader, mentor, and self-leader.
  2. Reflect on where you want to be as a leader in one year. Let yourself dream a little.
  3. Conduct a 360-degree leadership audit. Interview or survey your team members on how your leadership is blessing them and how you can grow this year.
  4. Craft mini vision statements for the health of your leadership in each of the eight areas of competency above.
  5. Identify the 2-3 greatest areas of need and prioritize your development.
  6. Create an action plan outlining 2-3 key action steps per 2-3 priority competency.
  7. Set due dates and submit to an accountability partner!
  8. Post on your mirror or craft a wallpaper background for your laptop.

Taking one for the team – helping your team members grow as leaders

You don’t have to stop with you! You can easily make this a group project for your team. Have each team member create a leadership development plan alongside you!

You can host bi-annual or annual leadership development planning parties. During these meetings, each team member can give and request feedback and share their plans with the team. This will help create a culture of interdependence, trust, vulnerability, and leadership.

Don’t Lead Alone!

Through the Joy to Lead® Academy you can equip yourself for leading a team with our courses on leadership, team management, and recruitment and onboarding.

In the Joy to Lead® Community, you can immerse yourself in a supportive, welcoming and bolstering community of leaders. In this membership community we have live coaching sessions every month, regular co-working and book discussions, and drop exclusive mini-courses and guides. This is the place to be if you’re craving a pillar of stability, support and encouragement from other leaders who are walking this crazy leadership journey alongside you. We hope to see you there! 

I'm Kaylan, leadership educator, podcaster & speaker

What are you searching for?

Reading suggestions

Crafting a 90-Day Onboarding Plan

Job Postings that Attract Top Talent

Mapping Your Leadership Style