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A personal leadership development framework

Posted by A Friend on 7 March 2009

In our previous post, we suggested that one reason why some good performers thrust into leadership positions fail is because they did not have the adequate preparation for their new roles. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations take leadership training and development for granted and often assume that promotion to leadership positions are a natural progression for good performers. As we illustrated in our post, this is not necessarily the case.

It thus often falls on individuals to ensure that they adequately prepare themselves for the challenge of leadership. But then, some may ask: if organizations still struggle with leadership development as a practice, what hope do individuals have of getting it right? We asked the same question ourselves and surprisingly, we found that it is easier for individuals than for organizations to get it right.

The reason is quite simple. The most mature and well-run organizational leadership development programs will never meet the leadership development requirements of every aspiring leader in the organization. These programs are designed to be generic enough for maximum applicability, so it has to be assumed that there will always be the odd and eccentric aspiring organizational leader that the program will fail; imagine if this odd person out is a CEO of the future. Individuals, on the other hand, can tailor fit their own leadership development program to well, themselves.

Below is a diagram of a framework we’ve developed for our own personal leadership development. The framework is designed to suit any individual circumstance, although we generally find it more useful if aligned with organizational objectives.

Personal Leadership Development Framework

The framework is divided into four main components (illustrated by the different color schemes of the eight general task items): lay the groundwork for leadership development, leadership development planning, implementation of the leadership development plan, and self reassessment. Below are brief descriptions of the eight task items.

Know and understand yourself

It is essential for any aspiring leader to have a good personal understanding of him or her self. This includes knowing areas of strength and weakness, and desires and aspirations. The aspiring leader should also try to understand their management, leadership, and communication style; and environments and situations when and where they are most effective.

It is an accepted but often neglected no-brainer that aspiring leaders who have a good understanding of themselves are more effective in mapping out their personal leadership development plans.

Study leadership

Aspiring leaders must at least be familiar with various leadership concepts and their application. Ideally, aspiring leaders should be up-to-date with leadership theory (e.g. they should know that save for few and far between specific cases, strong-arm or autocratic leadership styles are now generally accepted as ineffective).

This does not mean that aspiring leaders should blindly believe and follow every leadership trend that comes about, of course. Leadership theory is continuously evolving, and no model can be applied to all situations. The aspiring leader should study leadership theory and use it as a guide and starting point, not as an absolute prescription.

Find mentors and role models

It is important for aspiring leaders’ personal development to have mentors and role models that they can use as guides, motivators, and real life examples. One difficulty we have had in our own practice is finding mentors. Mentors may not necessarily be available in the workplace, and unless it is part of an organizational initiative, a formal mentorship program is very difficult to implement.

The aspiring leader should try to find alternative means, including informal mentorship. This can, for example, be done by forming personal relationships and actively networking (e.g. informal lunch or coffee every month) with leaders they look up to. Good leaders are generally generous with their time, and all that is often required is for the aspiring leader to ask.

Another alternative, or a complement, to mentorship is looking out for role models, especially those that the aspiring leader can most relate to. What is most important to note is, like leadership theory, aspiring leaders should mainly use mentors and role models for practical learning. It is dangerous for the aspiring leader to blindly pattern their own leadership development to their mentors and role models, and it is wise to remember that what works for the goose does not necessarily work for the gander.

Map out a personal development plan

Effective personal leadership development planning can only be done after the groundwork for leadership development had been properly laid. Personal development planning covers a range of topics and there are blogs out there that are almost exclusively devoted to this. The only points we want to focus on are the key personal development plan essentials, based on the framework we are suggesting. The aspiring leader should ensure that their plan is aimed to: further enhance key strengths, be aligned with personal desires and aspirations, address critical areas of weakness, and explore opportunities to apply learned leadership principles.

The plan, if at all possible, should also be aligned with organizational plan and objectives. Doing so makes it more convenient to implement, and has a higher likelihood of getting key organizational resources involved.

Involve others

Involving others in the execution of personal leadership development plans is an important cog of our proposed model, and what was left unsaid in the previous section is that aspiring leaders should strive to ensure that some, if not all, of the most important activities in their plans include the involvement of others.

Getting others involved is a less risky way of testing the often murky waters of relationship management. The only risk if things don’t go according to plan is some of the aspiring leader’s personal objectives are not met. That risk is worth taking if they are able to take away some key learning about how they work with others.

Another important consideration is the aspirants are the de facto leaders tasked to complete the plan, merely because the plan is theirs. Thus, if they ensure others are involved, they are in fact “practicing” leading them. And again, regardless of the result, they should be able to take away some key learning about how they lead others.

Objectively assess outcomes

The objective assessment of outcomes requires the aspiring leader to take a step back after tasks are completed and make an assessment of outcomes from the point of view of a third party observer. Objectifying the experience is essential to ensure that the succeeding analysis is as free from bias as possible.

To attempt to be objective while at the same time being intimately involved in the experience is a difficult task to do, but also a great regular exercise routine, for aspiring leaders. This is the kind of activity we do in a lot of the cases that we present here, so it might be a good idea to look at some of these cases.

Critically analyze outcomes

This goes hand in hand with the previous point: a critical analysis can only be done against an objectively assessed outcome. Critical analysis is needed for genuine learning to take place. This is when all of the takeaways are taken stock of and categorized as good, bad, or really ugly (the aspiring leader can, of course, use a less brutal assessment measure).

The really ugly results will almost require immediate remediation, as these will often be highlighted as unacceptable; the good and bad ones can be banked as part of experiential learning and often form the basis of self assessments and succeeding personal development plans.

Reassess yourself

Finally, this model requires continuous self reassessment. The end of each development cycle gives the aspiring leader the opportunity to review what was accomplished and what was not, measure their development plan against outcomes, and reflect on key learning.

The self reassessment might reveal some individual strengths further enhanced, key leadership traits discovered and developed, and conceptual understanding of leadership theory validated. It might also show more personal weaknesses not highlighted previously, some leadership models that are not compatible with the leadership aspirant’s own personality and style, and some relationship management shortcomings. In short, the reassessment should serve as platform for the next personal leadership development cycle and for the aspiring leader’s continued growth.


6 Responses to “A personal leadership development framework”

  1. I love reading your blogs.. They are full of inspirations and tips on leadership..

  2. Sherin said

    Extremely nice information. I don’t feel that you have missed anything and very impressive writing style using proper charts. Keep writing.


  3. Eric said

    This world needs more qualified leaders. If only some of our politicians would read this post.

  4. […] Friend presents A personal leadership development framework posted at Literal Thinking, saying, “A framework for your personal leadership development […]

  5. […] Posts Of project signoff pointsA personal leadership development frameworkThe case of the red-faced autocratic leaderThe perennial time and scope dilemma, part 2The perennial […]

  6. colleen said

    I like the assessment that it is good to sit back and have a third party analyze the situation when a project is completed. I do think it is important.

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