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8 Ways Successful Leaders Shape Their Careers

by George Mensah
8 Ways Successful Leaders Shape Their Careers

Based on recent survey findings detailed in the white paper titled “Bridging the Skills Gap: Workforce Development and the Future of Work,” published by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), it is increasingly evident that a significant skills gap exists within organizations. This gap, in part, results from employers being hesitant to invest in the upskilling of their employees, whether through internal or external means.

What further complicates this situation is that 50% of the survey respondents, all of whom were headquartered in the United States, acknowledged the presence of a leadership skills gap within their companies. Alarmingly, a nearly equal percentage anticipated that such a gap would persist in the near future.

While the responsibility to address this leadership skills gap largely falls on talent development teams, it’s crucial to acknowledge that career and skills development, especially for leaders, is also a personal responsibility.

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So, what can emerging leaders do to enhance their leadership skills, narrow the talent gap, and prepare for succession?

1. Continuous Self-Study:

In today’s digital age, where a wealth of affordable, on-demand learning resources is readily available, there has never been a better time for individuals, including aspiring leaders, to proactively enhance their skills and knowledge. Aspiring leaders should leverage the abundance of resources to foster their career growth and, specifically, to develop their leadership skills.

2. Strengths and Weaknesses Analysis:

One of the benefits of self-study, combined with practical experience, is its ability to reveal blind spots – areas for improvement in one’s management approach that might otherwise go unnoticed. This self-awareness can be used to one’s advantage by dedicating time to address identified areas for growth. Leaders should analyze their strengths and weaknesses, seeking feedback from superiors if necessary, and then tailor their self-study efforts to focus on key developmental areas.

3. Soliciting Feedback:

Exceptional leaders actively seek and welcome feedback from various sources, using it as a benchmark to gauge their progress. To be highly effective in their leadership roles, leaders should actively seek feedback from their managers, peers, team members, and external stakeholders. This multilevel feedback approach provides a holistic view of their performance and allows them to address specific areas for improvement transparently.

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4. Enhancing Active Listening Skills:

Effective communication is a cornerstone of leadership. Active listening skills are crucial, as a lack of effective communication is often cited as the main cause of workplace failures. Leaders should focus on understanding the underlying messages in what others are saying, including non-verbal cues. An open-minded, non-judgmental approach to listening can significantly enhance leadership effectiveness.

5. Setting Career Goals:

Successful leaders recognize the importance of setting both business and career goals. They should proactively plan their leadership journey with a long-term vision, envisioning where they see themselves in the next decade. By working backward from their long-term vision, leaders can establish short-term SMART goals for various aspects of their leadership development, including skills acquisition, promotions, and potential career changes.

6. Securing a Coach or Mentor:

Investing in a leadership development coach can be immensely beneficial. A coach can assist in identifying one’s leadership style, strengths, and weaknesses, set goals, and offer guidance on career advancement and organizational challenges. Similarly, having a mentor, whether internal or external, who possesses leadership experience, empathy, and insights to share, can be a valuable resource for aspiring leaders.

7. Networking with Other Leaders:

Attending networking events, forums, conferences, and meet-and-greet sessions is an excellent way to enrich one’s leadership skills. These opportunities enable leaders to expand their knowledge, gain business acumen, and establish valuable connections that can open doors to career-enhancing prospects, including potential investors, partners, mentors, and talent pools.

8. Exercising Discipline and Setting Boundaries:

Self-discipline is a vital trait for effective leaders. In addition to leading their teams and managing business operations, successful leaders understand the importance of setting personal and professional boundaries. They prioritize their well-being, make decisions aligned with their business goals, and maintain organization in their daily habits.

Leadership is an ongoing journey, characterized by a continuous evolution rather than a fixed destination. Each day presents new challenges, some familiar and others unprecedented. What distinguishes exceptional leaders is their level of preparation. Instead of relying solely on employers for upskilling, aspiring leaders can take charge of their development by focusing on the areas mentioned above. By doing so, they will strengthen their leadership capabilities, ensuring they are well-equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

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