How to Create a Personal Leadership Development Plan
Successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes. No two workplaces, situations, crises, or scenarios are the same, and no two leaders are the same. And while it’s fine to say that servant leadership is the most effective type of management style, that doesn’t explain how a manager can become an effective manager. That’s where the personal leadership development plan comes into play.
The idea of developing a personal leadership development plan might seem a bit wonky, especially if you’re already in a leadership position. But having a plan — more specifically, a written list of leadership development activities — is important.
Here’s why: on the most basic level, you want your personal leadership development plans to be readily accessible as both reminders and guidelines for the goals you’ve set for yourself. We’ve all made mental to-do lists — and promptly forgotten everything on them. Same goes with a leadership plan.
Not sure where to start? Follow this step-by-step guide and you’ll have a leadership development plan in no time.
Step 1: Define What Generally Makes a Great Leader
The best way to make a leadership development plan is to draw inspiration from today's great leaders. To start, make a leadership skills list of qualities that you think make up the traits, competencies, abilities, and experience of a good leader.
of skills you might put on your list:
- Honest, ethical behavior
- Being able to clearly and succinctly communicate a vision
- Using creativity and intuition to navigate difficult and unpredictable situations
Step 2: Take a Self-Assessment
Next you want to identify your core characteristics. These are personality traits like "adventurous," "observant," and "impulsive." To do this, take a test like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or StrengthsFinder. Or, rally a group of friends, peers, colleagues, and family to write down words they'd use to describe you.
By breaking down your personality traits and strengths, you’ll have more insight into your personal style and be able to better answer the “Who am I?” piece of the personal leadership development process, which we'll get to later.
Step 3: Identify Your Core Values
Now that you've identified your core characteristics, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty details and identify your core values.
Core values are the principles you use to make decisions and define integrity and ethics. They are the things that help you weigh choices in life, and are typically unwavering.
To help you identify what your core values might be, we've listed a few below. Choose 8–12 of the following values that are most important to you:
- Economic security
- Helping others
- Inner harmony
- Personal development
From your selections, identify 3–5 as your main core values. To see what these look like in action, here's an example from Kevin Daum, a journalist at Fast Company who revealed his own core values and provided guidelines for developing your own.
Step 4: Write a Personal Vision Statement
A personal vision statement reflects your personal traits and core values. It seeks to answer the question, “Who am I and what is my higher calling?”
To narrow this broad objective, focus on the following things:
- What you want to be (in terms of character traits – refer to your self-assessment!)
- What you want to achieve or contribute
- The principles/values you use to make decisions, big and small
The personal vision statement will become your personal constitution — a physical reminder for you to see where you’ve been, where you are, and where you want to go. By outlining your vision, you will have something to look back on when it comes time to develop your goals and write an action plan.
To give you an example of what this could look like, here is dailyworth.com founder, Amanda Steinberg's, personal mission statement:
"To use my gifts of intelligence, charisma, and serial optimism to cultivate the self-worth and net-worth of women around the world."
After you’ve written your personal statement, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this represent the integrity I stand for?
- Are direction, purpose, and motivation signaled in this statement?
- Is this an accurate portrait of who I want to be?
- Does this inspire me?
Remember: nothing is set in stone. Your personal statement will — and should — evolve over time. It should reflect where you are now and where you hope to go.
Step 5: Analyze What Others Think of You
You've done a lot of soul searching up to this point. However, being a great leader isn't just about what you think makes an effective leader. Other people — your industry, peers, and those you lead — need to also think you're effective.
To check if the personality traits, core values, and personal mission statement you settled on align with what others currently think of both you and leaders in general, answer the following questions:
- What do you want your employees and coworkers to say about you when you are not in the room?
- Now, what do they actually say? (You might realistically know the answer to this already. If not, ask a trusted peer.)
- More generally, how do others currently perceive you?
- Do you care about others’ perceptions of you?
- What are the expectations for professionalism and leadership in your field?
- If your personal assessment doesn't align with the answers to these questions, are you capable of changing your image and are the benefits worth the costs (cognitive, psychological, emotional, physical effort) to change? Do you even want to change?
The answers to these questions should serve as a checks and balance to all the work you did prior to this step. By identifying holes in what you want to be vs. what people already think you are, you'll be able to pinpoint exactly where you need to improve, which will help with the next step.
Step 6: Identify Current and Lacking Leadership Skills
You now have in writing leadership qualities every leader should possess; your own personality traits, core values, and personal vision; and a list of what other people think of you. All this reflection allows you to accomplish this next step: Expanding on and further defining the skills needed to become your definition of an ideal leader.
- First, identify the skills you already have. Skills are different than traits: Skills can be taught (e.g. Excel, communication, delegating, etc.). Traits are natural abilities that last a lifetime (e.g. thoughtful, risk-adverse, introverted, etc.).
- Writing a resume can help identify these skills. Or, draw inspiration from these types of skills:
- Personal skills: Developing self-awareness, managing personal stress, solving problems
- Interpersonal skills: Coaching and counseling, other supportive communication, influencing and motivating others, managing conflict
- Group skills: Empowering and delegating, building effective teams and teamwork, managing change
- Technical skills: Making presentations, making policies, personnel management, budgeting, project management
- Once you’ve made your list, mark each item with an “S” if it is one of your strengths or a “D” if it’s something that needs development. If you’re unsure, ask a mentor, friends, and/or colleagues to offer their insights.
- Lastly, cross reference the skills you identified with the lists you made of "skills all great leaders have" and "the skills others think I have (or lack)." Ask yourself, "Are there gaps in which I need to improve?"
Remember, you do not need to embody every trait a great leader may have. You also don't need to improve on every single skill others think you need. Narrow down which ones you should focus on by cross referencing them with your core values and personal mission statement. If the skills don't align with these, deprioritize or bag them altogether.
Once you have a list of skills prioritized in descending order by "need development" and strengths, it's time to make some goals.
Step 7: Set Goals
Here’s where all this prior self-analysis and research come into play. Using the prioritized personal leadership skills list you developed in step six, write 2–3 stretch leadership development goals (goals that are challenging) and 1–2 manageable goals (goals that are “SMART”) that will help you achieve each of your reach goals.
A good example of a leader who used this model is Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, who took over as the CEO of LEGO in 2004. The family-owned business was not in good shape, but over the next five years, Knudstorp turned the company around. His stretch goal: To improve the company in every area. The SMART steps he took to get there: building better relationships with employees and customers, empowering employees to make decisions at all levels of the hierarchy, and introducing tight fiscal controls.
SMART goals are:
- Specific: Ask who, what, where, when, why, and which
- Measureable: Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress; ask “How much?”, “How many?”, and, “How will I know when it is accomplished?”
- Attainable: Just about any goal can be attained when you plan steps wisely and establish a realistic time frame; ask yourself what conditions would have to exist to accomplish the goal
- Realistic: Goals should be things you are willing and able to work toward — things you believe can be accomplished and that you actually want to accomplish
- Timely: Goals should be grounded within a specific time frame
Step 8: Write an Action Plan
You have your goals. Now it's time to make an action plan for achieving them.
The action plan lays out the specific steps you’ll take, resources you’ll use, and the support system you’ll build to reach your stretch and SMART goals. If paper isn’t your thing, tools such as Trello are available to help you keep track of everything.
Organize your stretch and SMART goals in the following format:
- GOAL #1: (Enter goal here)
- SPECIFIC ACTIONS TO TAKE: (Pro tip: Start with a verb to incite action!)
- RESOURCES TO ASSIST DEVELOPMENT: (Including any training you may need)
Then, put them in order of importance and/or time it will take to achieve said goals. You now have a road map for achieving your goals and becoming the leader you want to be! To see what all of personal leadership development planning can look like once complete, see this example provided by Yale University.
Remember: your finished personal development leadership plan represents where you are now and where you hope to go. Revisit your plan often, updating it and tweaking it as needed, so that it reflects where you are on the road to becoming a great leader.