Why should you, just starting out in your career, care about leadership development? After all, right now you may think you have more important issues, like getting a good job.
I would argue, however, that leadership development is not a practice that takes place later in your career, nor only after you’ve established yourself as a high performer at an organization.
Rather, I believe defining who you are as a leader is an important part of establishing your personal brand.
The Sad State of Leadership Development
The reality is you are entering a workforce where many leaders feel helpless. They’re unaware of why their leadership development practices don’t work, yet they’re moving forward with the same old programs and initiatives, hoping something will stick; that someone will be transformed as a result.
“Leading well, gaining followership, and delivering results in the next 10 years—in which change, volatility, and industry disruption are the constant, and periods of stability and predictability are unusual—will be the challenge that underlies all else for executives and those who help develop them” say authors David Dotlich and Raj Ramachandran.
“Effective leaders will need to be able to adapt to such a wide variety of different contexts, conditions, and situations that it will be increasingly difficult to simply teach ‘how to lead.’ What we can do instead is develop leaders who have the skills to flourish in complex, ambiguous, and uncertain environments.”
Critical Leadership Skills
What are these skills? Emotional intelligence. Critical thinking. Decisiveness. We’ve all heard such capabilities touted as paramount for successful leaders in the 21st century. Dotlich and Ramachandran add humility, drive, agility, and a strong sense of purpose to the list of qualities required by those who must lead in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) workplace.
Do you embody these skills?
My Leadership “Ah-ha” Moment
Last year I enrolled in a leadership development program at my organization and enjoyed one-on-one coaching for the first time in my career. I began the program expecting to be personally transformed by developing a specific skillset I identified as imperative for a successful leader. I need to be more assertive. I want to grow my decision making abilities. My strategic thinking skills could use some work. My self-narrative on Day One of the program said I was insufficient as is, my strengths weren’t good enough, and I needed to become a different person to be an effective leader.
I was wrong.
The most transformative truth I realized is I am the best leader when I am me – when I fully embody the strengths I already have at my disposal. The focus of my development should be on those skills, not on a list of leadership capabilities I assumed were necessary to attain. What a shift in thinking about effective personal leadership!
You Are Your Best Leader
I think this simple epiphany applies to you, too, especially as you hone your personal brand during your job search. Employers are looking for new hires who have the skills, capabilities and desire to grow into organizational leaders.
And to do so effectively, you must remain authentic. You are not Steve Jobs; you cannot copy one phenomenal leader’s qualities as your own blueprint for success. Instead, a rigorous and ongoing process of self-growth is necessary to cultivate the most effective leadership development for you.
I encourage you to talk about your desire to lead as part of your personal brand, and leadership development in general, during your job search.
Make potential employers aware of the work you’ve invested to establish your leadership identity. When you position yourself as someone willing to learn and grow as a leader within your new workplace, chances are you will appear more mature, loyal, and ambitious than fellow candidates.
About the Author: Ann Parker is manager of the Human Capital Community of Practice and the Senior Leaders & Executives Community of Practice at ATD. Prior to this position, she worked at ATD for five years in an editorial capacity, primarily for TD magazine, and most recently as a senior writer and editor. In this role, Ann had the privilege to talk to many training and development practitioners, hear from a variety of prominent industry thought leaders, and develop a rich understanding of the profession’s content. Follow Ann on Twitter.