Carving out time for learning and development is critical for anyone who wants to improve their leadership skills and performance outcomes.
With looming deadlines, daily tasks, and urgent meetings, learning to lead can often take the back burner. But advancing yourself can take a manageable amount of time. Much of it can occur during your daily work.
The latest research says structured programs should only account for 10% of leadership development. Research suggests spending the rest of your developmental time on experimentation (70%) and self-discovery (20%). But how should that look? And how do you get started?
Listed below are several evidence-based approaches that work.
Start with what is going to take the smallest chunk of time — leadership development. You might already be familiar with platforms to consider doing formal lessons on, but there are two things you need to do before you hit the “play” button on any video.
First, you must identify a key leadership area you want to develop. You’re already short on time, so try to tackle only a little at a time. Review any data or feedback in your possession, such as performance reviews or results of a recent survey. Identify up to two competencies or skills you want to improve.
Second, set a time limit. Leaders often make critical mistakes by doing too much, too fast. You will get excited, watch one hour of content in one day, get overwhelmed by too many ideas and tips, and either lose your motivation or try to implement these ideas and get discouraged by the lack of results.
Instead, remember this is a long-term game. Your small, daily actions will be much more effective in the long term than short bursts of activity.
Luckily, many online programs are built just this way with short videos, meaning that you only need to invest three to five minutes a day. Find a course that matches a developmental area you have identified. Commit to watching one or two short videos a day. But don’t just watch. Make physical or mental notes of key takeaways and ideas and find a way to implement them into your day.
Self-discovery should take up 20% of the time spent on leadership development. Remember that you’re only spending 10 minutes a day on formal learning under this plan. You’ll want to devote more time to self-discovery. The good news is that you can do this during any given workday.
Spend time observing other leaders. Find a leader in your organization who demonstrates behaviors aligned with your areas of development. Observe how and what they do, and if you have an opportunity, ask them questions about why they did something, but wait to push.
Again, do more than watch. Take notes and think about how you can replicate your peer’s actions.
Now on to what will take the most amount of time — experimentation. Think like a scientist, and conduct small experiments to modify your typical behavior.
Apply something you learned from online courses or by observing other leaders. For example, if you need to have a difficult conversation with a coworker, try an approach you don’t usually follow.
Decide ahead of the meeting what your specific actions will be. Try it out and observe the results. Even if it fails, you can always fall back on what you already know and move on to the next experiment.
Research shows that experimenting is critical to strengthening your leadership identity. Over time, acting in new ways will become ingrained in your sense of self.
While experimentation takes up most of your development time budget, it’s also integrated into your daily tasks, and it’s important to find time to record and reflect. Take notes about what you try and how it works. If you don’t already, try keeping a journal to record your thoughts and reflections.
Recognizing leadership development should be an ongoing part of your professional life. While dipping in and focusing on it when time allows is ideal, time restrictions often limit when we can do so.
That doesn’t mean you can’t develop your skills — just be patient, and these skills will come. All it takes to become a better leader is dedication and a small investment of time.
If you still feel overwhelmed, remember this — we mistakenly think that leadership development only occurs in the workplace.
However, research suggests that most effective leaders are constantly trying to learn and improve.
Ask yourself what you can learn about leadership from these roles, conduct behavioral experiments in these other contexts, and reflect on how the learning applies to your work role. It will help to accelerate your development as a leader in key, identifiable areas.
Originally written by Darja Kragt
Revised by Houston Hawley, President — ProVantage Corporate Solutions
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