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Who’s Developing You? A Different Look at Leadership Development

Published March 22, 2017

Every organization talks about the importance of developing leaders, and that is the cornerstone of any successful company without a doubt. Unfortunately though, when looking at leadership development the singular focus seems to be on who you’re developing and not who is developing you as a leader. It’s an important distinction. Yes, we need to develop leaders. We need to replace ourselves. We need to create opportunities for the people around us. But the real question is who is developing you as a leader?

As leaders we can spend so much time pouring into other people that we can easily run out of gas because no one is pouring into us. While no one gets there alone, we’re encouraged and recognized as leaders for accomplishing so much that we can find ourselves standing all alone with nothing left to give.

In 2012 I was working in an amazing company with an amazing leadership team that I had the honor of building and developing. We were contributing in big ways to the success of our company and leading in many key indicators of performance. We had built an amazing culture across 200+ restaurants. Sales and profits were up. Leaders were growing and taking on new opportunities within the company. On paper, and more importantly in the restaurants, we had a strong foundation for continued growth. Everything was great. Until it wasn’t.

I ran out of gas and I hit a wall. I was so busy making sure that the people around me were getting developed, I missed the fact that no one was pouring into me in an intentional way to further my own leadership journey. I had people around me that cared for me. Family. Friends. Colleagues. But I was missing that key connection that could challenge my thinking and expand my own leadership lid. When I hit this metaphorical wall I wasn’t prepared for it, even though I had done all of the stuff you’re supposed to do as a leader to help yourself become a better leader. But it wasn’t enough because I did not have the right people investing in my leadership development. I didn’t have a mentor.

As we mature in our leadership journey it is almost as if we are discouraged from asking for help, from looking to others for leadership, and from admitting that we don’t have it all together, have all the answers, and could use some intentional development. We take bits and pieces of things we learn from reading, meetings, retreats and seminars and try and jam them into our leadership tool box in an attempt to “be a better leader”.

Over the last 5 years I have deconstructed everything I know about leadership development and challenged everything and it’s been one of the best things I have ever done, in addition to having some very important mentors who I meet with on a regular basis it has led me to these 6 things that I think we can do as leaders for our personal development to help us see that wall before we hit it and make a course correction to stay on track.

  1. Have a mentor. We all need a trusted advisor (that is not our boss) who can and will be honest with us. Many of us that are “in charge” are already experts and that is the problem. We have all the answers, or think that we do, and are not open to other ways of thinking and sometimes resistant allowing someone to speak into our lives. Every leader needs a good sanity check as we all tend to operate in a bit of a silo.
  2. Schedule blank space. Our schedules are way too full. Meetings, conference calls, 1-1’s, and email. And that’s just work stuff. Think about the personal lives we all have that we sacrifice because we don’t schedule downtime. As leaders we need time to think, write, and process ideas. Scheduling blank space will give us clarity and allow us to breathe.
  3. Read or listen to books. All kinds of books; business, fiction, special interest – whatever you are passionate about. Read whatever you can get your hands on in these areas. Reading can spark new ideas and innovation as well as help you flesh out ideas and process what you’ve had rolling around in your mind.
  4. Write it down. When you are in a meeting, even if you are leading it, take notes. Always. It sets a great example for your team and reinforces that what you are hearing from them is important. It also allows you to further process ideas and gain clarity in your thinking. There is a power in writing things down. One of my former leaders told me as a new GM that if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen. I have seen that play out many times over the years and am thankful for my notes. When you are recapping the performance of your company it’s also a powerful gut check to read what you just wrote and ask yourself “is this true?” Or am I making something sound better than it is, or worse than it is?
  5. Invest in yourself. Pick one leadership event to attend every year. Take one person with you. This could be someone that is mentoring you and has invested time in your personal development. Maybe this is someone you are looking at mentoring. It could be a peer or colleague outside of your company. But take whoever it is take them with along. You will find that both of you gain a lot from the experience.
  6. Be a mentor. The act of being a mentor and paying it forward is crucial to your development and execution as a leader. It brings your leadership development full circle. Being a mentor takes a lot of work and patience but it is also incredibly gratifying. It allows you to draw something out of someone that you see in them, but they don’t. You’re asking questions that you already know the answer to, and when the person you are mentoring connects the dots it becomes their idea. They own it. And that is absolutely the point of leadership development. It also creates the opportunity for you to lead by example. When you teach something, you learn something. Every time.

The ability to develop strong leaders will always be important to creating strong organizations, but our ability to allow ourselves to be developed will be the catalyst to create a sustainable and reproducible model to help our leadership to live beyond us, which of course is what we all want. Make sure you allow someone to pour into you as a leader to help you identify those obstacles to effective leadership that you may have a hard time seeing. If you can see the wall, you can make adjustments to your leadership and make more of an impact on others. Take time to invest in yourself and allow others to invest in you as a leader.

Who’s developing you as a leader?