Way too often I’ve found myself training seasoned professionals on fundamental leadership skills. These skills are so simple, yet so incredibly effective that leaders responsible for billion dollar budgets wished they’d learned them much earlier in their career.
According to a study by Zenger/Folkman of more than 17,000 leaders, the average age they began leadership development training was 42 and fewer than 10% began before they were 30. This is a big problem.
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese proverb
Don’t fall into the trap of hyperbolic discounting (sacrificing tomorrow for short term gratification) when you can build strong roots in your leadership presence now. Neuroscience shows us that we can be lifelong learners, however, it does take significantly more effort, focus and time to acquire new skills as we age. Don’t be an old dog scrambling to learn new tricks; start developing yourself now.
Here are three things you (and your organization) can do today that will make you a leader that inspires employees and has a dramatic impact on both productivity and the bottom line.
1. Don’t Wait
It’s never too early to start developing your leader skills. Perhaps companies should stop training senior leaders all together and focus strictly on the pipeline. OK, we don’t have to stop training them, but let’s be smart about where we are investing our money. We all know the law of compound interest. My financial advisors have been telling me for years to invest more money now and it will pay off later so why should our leadership pipeline be any different? As Victor Lipman writes, it is crazy that we spend so much on developing senior leaders while cringing at the cost of our leadership future. If your company won’t invest on equipping you with the mindset, skills and tools to be a great leader now, find a forward-thinking company who will, or invest in yourself.
2. Develop the Leadership Mindset
As Marc Landsberg said, “If content is king, context is the emperor.”
Before you fill your head with all the things you need to “do” as a leader, focus on “how” you operate in collaboration with others. A leader’s mindset is the operating system that drives the hardware. It doesn’t matter what content or skills a leader comes with if you don’t have the appropriate context or orientation to use your skills effectively. Before you dive headfirst learning the “what” of leadership, set up the right operating system (mindset) that will accelerate your development, impact and contribution to others.
3. Develop Leadership Behaviors
Seth Godin wrote blog post a few weeks ago and he explains that over time, every organization becomes what is tolerated. A culture is exemplified by the behaviors people express within the company, so focus on developing the behaviors you want – and take a stand for them. Your behaviors become your personal brand. If you need a place to start, check out these leadership behaviors suggested by Zenger/Folkman.
What’s next for your development?