Learning and development (L&D) leaders are the best of the best in their field. No matter the size of organization in which they lead, L&D leaders should foster an inclusive environment in which employees are supported in their efforts to gain the most impactful and most in-demand skills. And yet, those super star corporate training leaders often find themselves as the prime example of that saying, “the cobbler’s children have no shoes,” meaning that the specialist ignores their own needs to always apply their skills in service to others.
Lean in and admit it fellow L&D leaders: You are putting your best into the development of your training professionals on your team and by extension, the employees they are training, while skipping your own development. The good news is that you found this article, that’s the first step on the way to reestablishing your own development as a priority.
Did your inner voice just say, “I’m a L&D Leader, I need to develop others first.” And yes, of course, developing others is at the core of your profession. However, when you develop your skills and continue your development you become a much stronger model for your team. It is disingenuous to promote the importance of training and learning in professional journeys if you don’t demonstrate a growth mindset for yourself. Here are some tips to get started.
1. Conduct your own skills assessment.
If you are in a formal learning leadership role now, you have demonstrated experience. Your team could be one trainer, or it could be trainers, instructional designers, and media developers. Regardless of what comprises your responsibilities in your current leadership role, you have room to grow.
There is great value in reassessing your skill set so that you can put your energy into what will have the most impact on your career journey. In your skill assessment effort, consider doing two or three assessments to have more data to inform your development efforts. Look to assessment tools within your training environment resources, online tools or a combination of both. Completing multiple skills assessments will provide you with more data and insights to help you plan where to put your development time and energy. It is the same approach you use as a training manager — get good data as a set-up for good decisions.
You may choose to do assessments on a selected skill area (e.g., leadership, data analysis or managing global teams). Or, you may choose to do assessments that are more generalized to see if there is an area that you are not as strong in but that is because you had not previously considered it.
For the gaps that may appear from the skills assessment, some you may know of and accept based on your longer-term goals. That is not a problem. Don’t put effort into a skill development just so you can say you removed a gap; focus your efforts where there will be no measurable impact on your career goals.
2. Study your career landscape.
Whether you are looking to get better at the management level you are at today or looking to preparation for an increase in responsibility, research that new role in terms of needed education, skills, and experience. Here are prompts to guide your work to look at the career landscape and identify your focus for your professional development:
- What certification(s) could you earn to formalize your experience in the areas of coaching, mentoring, leadership and/or training?
- What opportunities are there to show your current management what you bring to the table?
- Have you talked with your manager about growth paths and what is needed to pursue them?
- Based on career growth opportunities at your current organization, do you see yourself staying there for the next three years or looking elsewhere?
- What aspects of management in the future could you prepare for in the present, such as managing a global team, a larger team or a more complex training portfolio?
As you study your career landscape, work to have a concrete and actionable answer to what training, certification, education, and/or professional experience will set you up for success in the next year or two years.
3. Find yourself a mentor.
L&D Leaders are some of the best mentors! Yet, they often overlook finding a mentor to support their own development. Through a corporate program, your professional network or a peer organization, find a mentor for yourself. You likely recommend mentorship to your team and find pride in the success of your mentees. Mentorship is a great way to give and to learn, so be a mentee: It’s good for your career.
4. Make longer-term development goals.
Your leadership development efforts will have a longer timeline than your training goals did when you were an individual contributor due to the time it takes to develop more complex skills or earn advanced education.
Consider these development paths for L&D leadership advancement, each of which is not achieved in a single training or class experience:
- Building executive presence.
- Earning a training certification.
- Investing in higher education/a graduate certificate or degree program.
- Participating in leadership development courses for executives.
- Keeping up with or contributing to executive thought leadership.
Give yourself the grace to have longer-term development goals with a lens of a leadership pathway that will take time to realize. Not that the short-term wins lack merit, because you know better than most that earning a training completion certificate is always a boost! However, as a L&D Leader, you need to balance your management of your team along with your own growth so that you can bring your best to both.