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Develop a Personal Leadership Plan
Transformational Leadership and Innovation
In our work with leaders at the Institute for Organizational Leadership in Atlanta, we have taken a research-based approach to investigating the characteristics and behaviors commonly associated with transformational leadership and innovation. We began a number of years ago with a historical look at the way the study of leadership has emerged as a formal discipline, and how various models of leadership and management have been identified and defined over the years. As a result, we have compared and contrasted leadership models, assessed their effectiveness, and evaluated how well they are supported by research findings and empirical data in order to assist our clients and students.
Since transformational leadership itself continues to be an emerging discipline, we have also spent a considerable amount of time reviewing new research about transformational leadership and discussing how to integrate and apply transformational behaviors, values, characteristics, and strategies into our own leadership environment. However, all the research in the world is no substitute for personal application if we want to improve our ability to lead those who depend on us the most.
Developing a Personal Leadership Plan
One of the best ways to continually improve your leadership is to work from a formal leadership plan that is updated and changed each year. This plan allows you to synthesize the various aspects of leadership or management you have gleaned from research, discussions, experience, and formal study with your own leadership philosophy. It is not necessary to adopt or defend a specific leadership theory or model to be effective, but is important to clarify a personal stance and trajectory toward your own goals of personal leadership. In our view, it is also helpful to demonstrate a high level of scholarship even with a personal plan by providing the appropriate citations and references to support your goals and objectives.
Some Important Things to Keep in Mind
Each year at the Institute for Organizational Leadership, we have the privilege of helping hundreds of men and women set goals and objectives designed to improve their ability to lead and manage others. Now while we haven't found the perfect way to do this for every individual, we have discovered some important things to keep in mind as you prepare your heart and mind for the process. Here are three things that we teach our clients and students who are planning out their personal leadership plan for the coming year.
Start with What You Believe
First of all, always start with what you believe. There is an Augustinian maxim about faith and reason which asserts that orthodoxy always precedes orthoproxy. This simply means that what we believe about something almost always influences how we end up behaving. Now while this has obvious implications for the study of religious faith and the fundamentals of epistemology, it is also a good place to start when laying a foundation for your own leadership belief system. Here are some basic questions we might ask a client and some practical strategies to help uncover the answers.
1. What exactly do you believe about leadership? Begin by taking a blank legal pad and writing down the top ten things you believe about leadership. Don't use any books, articles, or research references. You have been studying leadership for some time now, so just sit quietly and write down what you believe. Don't be afraid to listen to your heart as well as your head.
2. Why do you want to be a leader, or what makes you think you can improve your leadership? Again, this calls for a subjective answer but it helps you think through some of the core ingredients of your leadership belief system. Some people we interview say they feel called to leadership, while others feel they are following the example of others who have inspired them to excel. Still others say that circumstances caused them to take a leadership role and now they are committed to improving their knowledge and skills to do a better job. There is no right answer to the question, but in my view, it is important to be completely honest with your answers to get at the heart of the truth.
3. How would you define leadership to someone under you who asked for a definition? Work out a formal definition of leadership that is one or two sentences in length. You can draw from any number of resources, but keep the final definition short, to the point, and in your own words. If you can't remember it, there is a good chance that no one else will either.
The one thing we know about successful leaders is that they have a clear understanding about what they believe about leading and following. Tichy (1997) argues that leaders "are the people who decide what needs to be done and the ones who make things happen" (p. 25). He goes on to say that the foundational belief system of the leaders in any organization are what shape the organizational culture and establish the basis for the development of second and third generation leaders who will carry on the vision (Tichy, 2002).
Get Comfortable with Your Ignorance
As you have discovered in this course, there is a vast amount of leadership research available to those who will take the time to review and study it. My personal advice to leaders at every level is to become comfortable with your own ignorance as soon as possible and then your readiness to learn will be at an all time high. What you don't know can and will limit your ability to lead others, and if you can come to grips with that fact, you can almost always find the answers you are looking for. As anyone who has been in leadership for very long knows, it is easy to fall into the trap of neglecting the incredible intellect and experience of those around you.
As leaders, we fill many roles as we interact with our bosses, peers, and subordinates. Sometimes we are out front leading the way, sometimes we are managing the time, tools, and tasks of others, and sometimes we are simply called on to follow while others take the lead for us (McNally, Gerra, and Bollis (1996). Whatever our role at the time, being a productive leader means thinking like a leader, understanding the foundations of leadership, providing a clear vision of the future, and modeling the kinds of behaviors and characteristics that will result in success for the organization as well as those who work in it.
Focus on Obstacles and Develop a Winning Strategy
Now I understand that there are a large number of motivational speakers and self-help experts that would literally cringe at the thought of someone telling you to focus on the obstacles or problems first. However, by now most of you know that I'm not in either field, so here are my thoughts.
First of all, every successful plan begins with an honest assessment of the present situation. The same thing is true for the development of a personal leadership plan, and a good place to begin is to identify the internal and external obstacles that are keeping you from growth. One of the best resources for this kind of analysis is a 360- degree leadership assessment that allows for multi-rater feedback from a wide range of personal and professional sources. At the Institute for Organizational Leadership, we generally select an instrument that allows for a minimum of 15 raters from superiors, peers, subordinates, family, and friends. The idea is to gain as much feedback as possible about your strengths and weaknesses as a leader from a wide range of people who interact with you on a regular basis. From my experience, there is nothing more painful, and yet more beneficial, than a full-circle view of how others see your leadership in action.
Second, once you have the information from either a formal or informal feedback activity, you need to identify the major obstacles that you want to overcome and examine them as carefully as possibly. Within every obstacle are the seeds of its own demise, and if you look carefully you will fine a strategy to overcome it or minimize its influence. It is out of this identification and examination of obstacles that we begin to develop our strategic goals and objectives for improvement. We then set timelines for each goal and outline resources necessary for success. Keep in mind that we often take more time to study the obstacles or weakness than we do to craft the pathway to a solution. If you like, you may ask me in the class discussion this week to explain my concept of "looking at the fish."
Regardless of the content or specific approach you take in laying out your personal leadership plan, you should work toward a foundational understanding of leadership history and theory, transformational leadership characteristics and behaviors, and some basic insights about how transformation and innovation work together. An effective personal leadership plan should bring together this and other knowledge gained during your life and study to outline a clearly defined plan for your personal and professional development. If you have questions or need my assistance, you can call the Institute for Organizational Leadership at anytime.
Chambers, J. (2002). Transformational leadership and innovation: University of phoenix syllabus for LDR711. Phoenix, AZ: University of Phoenix.
Dressler, G. (1998). Management: Leading people and organizations in the 21st Century. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
McNally, J. A., Gerra, S. J., Bollis, R. C. (1996). Teaching leadership at the U.S. military academy at west point. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 32(2), 181. Sage Publications.
Tichy, N. M. (1997). The leadership engine: How winning companies build leaders at every level. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Tichy, N. M. (2002). The cycle of leadership: How great leaders teach their companies to win. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
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