When it comes to leadership development, how big are you willing to dream? How about a development journey so comprehensive that it will permanently change your leadership brand? Welcome to the one-skill-a-year learning experience. That’s right – a significant focus on one skill, for a whole year. Let’s say the average leader starts managing people sometime in their late 20’s and has a normal 30 year career. Even if you worked on just one skill a year, with this plan you’d master at least a dozen top leadership behaviors before your fortieth birthday, just when you’re hitting your stride as a leader. Would you be interested in having world-class skills in that many facets of leadership? Here’s how to do it…
The first thing you need to do is choose the leadership area you’re going to work on. I recommend picking a leadership behavior – actions you literally take on a daily basis. For illustrative purposes, let’s pick “Driving Innovation” and plot a 12-month plan that has you moving through three integrated learning phases – study, practice and teach.
In the first quarter of the year, you’re going to study – you’re going to hit the books, surf the internet, and tap into experts to learn everything you can about innovation. Spend time in early January lining up your resources, buying three or four books on the subject, bookmarking websites, finding a conference to attend, identifying local companies known for innovation, etc. Next, take all of your resources and planned trips and get them on the calendar; literally, carve out time every week from January to March to spend time with your favorite research topic. Then, execute the plan. By the time April rolls around, you’re going to know everything there is to know about innovation!
Now it’s time for the next phase – practice. Dedicate the next two quarters to applying what you’ve learned on the job. Set up an innovation lab in your department or division. Set a goal of brainstorming product or process innovations with your team. Volunteer to lead a task force that is looking at new ways to innovate. Write a white paper about the history of innovation in your company. Make a pitch to senior leaders about the best opportunities for a new breakthrough. In other words, roll up your sleeves and really get into it – make a concentrated effort to have innovation be a big part of your daily work life.
Finally, in the last three months of the year, move into the teaching phase. Volunteer to teach a course on innovation at the company university or organize and market a speaker series where you travel around the company giving talks about innovation. If you don’t work in a large organization but like this development idea, look into teaching a course on innovation at a local community college. What’s the point of this phase? If you’ve ever taught a course, you already know – when you have to teach something, you really have to learn it.
What do you think? Can you do it? A full year of development is ambitious, that’s for sure. It will require a lot of dedication and perseverance. But if you were able to do this with your three or four weakest leadership skills over a six to eight year period, just think how proficient you’d be – without question, you’d turn those opportunity areas into towering strengths. Give this plan some thought the next time you find yourself frustrated about not improving a particular leadership skill or behavior. Maybe all you need is the time and focus to do it right.