All leaders have the potential to improve – but you have to work at it.  You have to want to get better if you’re going to become a more effective leader.  Why is this important?  There are several reasons of course, but perhaps the most important is your obligation as a people manager.  As a leader, you have an opportunity to help your people grow and develop so they can take their skills and contribution to another level.  But to positively impact others, you have to be willing to keep learning and growing yourself.  You have to model working on your own development.

Fortunately, it is possible to get a little better each day as a leader.  If you’re willing to put in the time, you really can learn, practice and apply new skills on a consistent basis.  And given today’s pace of change, you can’t wait for the organization to bring leadership training to you; you have to be willing to work on your own game.  You can’t rely solely on your boss for coaching and mentoring; you need to take charge of your own growth as a leader.  You need a personalized learning strategy and a customized plan of action.  And here’s the good news – you don’t need a big budget or an elaborate infrastructure to develop yourself.  All you need is the willingness to seek and listen to feedback and the ability to be reflective about how you can improve.  In short, you have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Here are five ways you can make yourself a better leader:

  1. Find out how you’re showing up as a leader.  If you’re going to improve your leadership, it helps to know what others think of your skills and behaviors.  Before you scope out what areas to work on, ask the people around you for input.  How are they experiencing your leadership?  What’s working for them?  What’s not working?  How do they feel about your ability to guide the team in the right direction?  What suggestions do your colleagues have for taking your skills to the next level?  If you’re sincere about soliciting and listening to their feedback, they’ll tell you what you need to work on.  Listen carefully to the input, and then reflect on your own leadership brand – where can you get better?
  2. Add something new to your game.  Next, if you’re serious about developing yourself, you need to do more than just leverage your strengths and minimize your current weaknesses.  Those are just the skills you have today – if you really want to improve, you have to continually add new elements to your leadership toolkit.  After all, the leader who stands still is destined to stay at their current level or even fall behind.  Do you have a specific plan for adding new skills?  In what areas do you need to focus?  How about adding some new leadership techniques like coaching, leading change, fostering innovation or broadening your peer leadership?  What about creating some space for yourself by adapting some new time management skills?  That would allow you time to actually think and reflect, which might lead to even more ideas for skills development.
  3. Get curious about the world around you.  Now that you’ve added some new skills to your game, it’s time to branch out and expand your horizons.  Developing yourself as a leader also means stretching your point of view, and seeing beyond the borders of your office (and company).  How well are you staying up with new developments in your field?  Do you have a firm grasp of your organization’s strategy?  Do you know what people do in other parts of the company?  How about your competitors – do you know what they’re up to?  What about looking beyond your industry – what’s happening in organizations that look nothing like yours?  What can you learn from them?   How about learning about cultures other than your own?  The world may be shrinking, but you need to go the other way – you need to broaden your perspective.
  4. Step out of your comfort zone.  Once you’ve expanded your world view and stretched the boundaries of your leadership, it’s time to take some risks with your development.  How about taking a more proactive stance with your boss about your next assignment or role?  What about joining a professional network, or improving your speaking and presentation skills?  Do you have trouble admitting mistakes, or seeing things from another perspective?  How about acknowledging that you don’t know everything there is to know about how your organization really works, or how it makes money?  You have a lot to gain by stepping outside your comfort zone and adapting different leadership behaviors.  Pick out the one thing that you’ve always avoided as a leader, and bring it inside your core set of skills.
  5. It’s not about you.  In the end, leadership is about the people you lead… it’s not about you.  Which begs the question: Is this how you’re looking at leadership?  Are you spending your time on the right big things, and is one of those things people development?  Are you going out of your way to raise the profile of your employees?  What if you volunteered your leadership skills to a nonprofit organization?  How about teaching a class at the corporate university?  That’s a great way to “give away” your knowledge and expertise.  Finally, what is your plan for succession – how are you preparing the leader who will come behind you?  These are the questions that will help you make the transition from ‘it’s about me’ to ‘it’s about others.’

Leadership is a privilege.  If you manage other people, you’ve been given a great gift – the opportunity to change people’s lives.  If you’re going to make that kind of a difference, however, you need to keep taking your leadership skills to a new level.  That means taking control of your own learning agenda.  Start by creating a customized leadership development plan – one that says: “I care about becoming a better leader.”  It’s the right thing to do for your own leadership brand, and it’s certainly the right thing to do for your team.