Today’s organizations have a leadership gap. According to Deloitte’s "Global Human Capital Trends 2016" report, 89% of executives found the need to strengthen, reengineer, and improve organizational leadership. However, more than half (56%) said their organizations are not ready to meet leadership needs, and more than one in five companies (21%) have no leadership programs at all.
For those who are willing to take the initiative to develop themselves as leaders, this gap represents an opportunity, says leadership coach Karen Lawson, founder of Lawson Consulting Group, Inc.. Developing oneself as a leader takes time and effort, but can position you for more opportunities, she says.
Here are six essential components to put yourself on the track to become a more effective leader.
In order to know where you need to develop, you need to have a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses, says Sandra Peart, PhD, dean of the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies. Tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality inventory or DiSC personality assessment can give you clues about leadership qualities that are typical for your personality. Think about your daily interactions and where you’re successful or where you struggle, she says. Those can be important indicators telling you where you excel and where you might need additional development.
In addition, you can check in with trusted colleagues and get feedback, Peart suggests. Sometimes, people in leadership roles are worried about not appearing in charge, so they don’t ask questions, because doing so might be perceived as a sign of weakness. "Actually it can be a sign of strength—a sign of being confident enough to check in with yourself, and with others, to make sure that people are actually understanding," she says.
Matt Fawcett was confident as he arrived at one of his first legal team meetings in Amsterdam as the new general counsel of data management and storage company NetApp. He had previously held a similar post at a different publicly traded company and thought his arrival would be met with "cheers and huzzahs."
But when one of the team members asserted that Fawcett didn’t even know what they did, the rest of the meeting "went downhill from there," he says. Reflecting on the event afterward and how it could have gone differently, he remembered an aphorism someone once shared with him: "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care," he says.
"I was focused on my intellect as being the thing that's going to persuade people to follow me, and I probably lacked a little bit of that humanity at first. I needed to really think about that," he says. Six years later, his department has doubled in size, and he successfully manages 70 people in 15 countries and 23 cities globally by treating his role as that of a coach and mentor, he says.
If you’re truly going to develop yourself as a leader, you’re going to need the resources to do so. That means setting aside time and money to take classes, hire a coach, attend conferences, or do the other things you need to develop your skills, says Bonnie Hagemann, CEO of Executive Development Associates, Inc., a leadership coaching and development firm.
"We budget for everything we think is important—if we need a new car or a home improvement. Why not budget for leadership development?" she says.
But even if you’re cash-strapped, leadership development is possible, Fawcett says. Leadership students can find a wealth of information online, including business courses from sources like Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) OpenCourseware to Coursera, which offers free online university courses, as well as podcasts, books, blogs, and other free resources. A good mentor can also do a world of good, she says.
If you’re trying to gain respect as a leader, you need to also think about how you present yourself, from the way you act to what you share on social media, Lawson says. Leadership presence is how others perceive you, and it’s an important part of building your credibility. That doesn’t mean that you suddenly need to show up to work in suits, but it’s worth thinking about the impression you make and whether it's how you want others to perceive you, she says.
"[Leadership presence is] your blend of poise, self-confidence, control, and style, and it's all about creating this perception about your character, your abilities, and your worth to the organization as well as to colleagues," Lawson says. Look at the leaders you admire, think about why their styles resonate with you, and examine how they behave, manage, and motivate people around them to see if those styles hold clues you can use to improve your own leadership skills and approach.
Another way to build your leadership confidence is to surround yourself with people who are different than you, Peart says. Seek out those who have different viewpoints and strengths, which shows that you’re confident enough in yourself and your abilities to work and interact with people who may hold different opinions and challenge you, she says.
Leaders often fail because they gravitate to others like them, which can insulate them from new ideas and innovation. She gives a simple example: Let’s say you like to hire people who like sports. You might not think much of that habit, but if everyone has the same interests, you might be missing out.
"It might be that someone could come in who likes the symphony, and says, ‘Well, actually, maybe we should do this instead,'" she says. "That's a new idea, and you never thought of it before, and it happens because you've put this interesting mix of people together."
One leadership area that’s often overlooked is understanding our own moral compass, Peart says. You have to know what your values are and "where the lines are that I will not cross or the things I will not do," she says.
"Leaders get asked to do all sorts of things, and they have to sometimes do things on the fly, and move very quickly," she says. "It's important to have had some time with yourself, and talking to other people, reflecting on what your ethical priorities are, and making sure that you don't get pushed—without having time to think about it—over one of those lines." Understanding those lines can help you make the right decisions for you, regardless of the pressures around you.