10 strategies to grow as a leader

Growth sky limit

You are a leader. You have done all the basic training. You have things under control.

What to do next to grow and develop yourself further? Here are ten strategies:

1. Become a “leader of leaders”

If you are a leader, try to re-organize your group or organization in such a way that you become a “leader of leaders”. That means some of your direct reports also have formal leadership responsibilities. Leading somebody who also has to lead others opens up a new perspective and forces you to take a step back and coach the other person in his/her leadership style. By this you grow naturally.

2. Train leadership in your organization or even outside

Volunteer to give a speech or even better a whole seminar on leadership in your organisation or at a college. This will force you to codify and clarify your personal leadership style. You will learn a lot about yourself and also about potential inconsistencies in your leadership. Additionally, the research for the speech/seminar and the interaction with the audience might result in new ideas that you can then test out in your daily leadership life.

3. Write down your “leadership code”

What are your top five (or seven, or ten) leadership principles you live by? What are the core rules, thoughts and strategies that define your approach? This is your leadership code that you should make visible to yourself first. This is a revealing exercise, and you can then share this with every new person who joins your project/team/organization.

4. Get a coach

Formal leadership training will get you only so far. The more senior you get the more you benefit from highly targeted coaching with an expert. The power of coaching comes especially from the next session, i.e. after you and the coach have agreed something that you will implement. And then there is somebody who will hold you accountable for it and pushes you to try it out. That’s when true implementation and change begins.

5. Request 360 degree feedback

The higher you rise in an organisation, the less true feedback you often receive. I continue to be stunned by the number of leaders I meet who have never received anonymous (= honest) 360 degree feedback. Receiving this kind of feedback is one of the most powerful moments in the life of any leader. Key is in my view to combine qualitative statements with quantitative ratings. Especially on the quantitative side the comparison of the self-assessment with the assessment of others is enlightening.

6. Find a mentor 

A mentor is somebody “whose hindsight can become your foresight”, as the saying goes. This is powerful as you can bounce off thoughts about tough leadership challenges with this individual. One important thing for mentors: The mentorship relation should always be driven by YOU. Don’t wait for your company to organise it, and don’t wait for your mentor to contact you. This will likely not happen.

7. Exchange with other leaders

Find peers in other organizations with who you can exchange approaches in a trusted environment. Form a master mind group or just have exchange lunches on a quarterly basis. Nothing beats exchanging challenges with somebody who has a similar role and responsibility in a different organisations.

8. Seek new challenging assignments

Continue to ask for that additional assignment, the challenging approach: Lead in a volunteer organisation. Lead a group of freelancers. Or why not try and lead a guild in world of warcraft or other online games? As Ryan Avery says: “the obstacle is the way”. By this you make sure that it’s not always the easy road you seek and it will help you grow.

9. “Metrify” your leadership

After a while as a leader, you will notice that some things work and maybe some others don’t. In order to further grow it is a good idea to put some metrics for leadership in place to truly check this. Examples could be “feedbacks per week” or “strategy updates per month”. Tracking this for some time, especially for some new or challenging situations (“number of outbursts in meetings”) can be very insightful and help you to grow in the long term. See here for instance 5 metrics for leaders that you should track.

10. Practice self-leadership

Take advice from leaders such as Marcus Aurelius and practice self-leadership. One of the key elements is self-awareness. Ask yourself everyday: “What one concrete thing could I do tomorrow to be a a better leader?” Write your answers down in a personal notebook and implement tiny steps, every day. (You can see more in my latest TEDx talk: Self-Leadership.)

Continue to grow

The most important thing is to not get complacent and to continue to question yourself and grow.

These are the strategies that I implemented as a leader myself and that I now coach individuals and teams on.

Which strategies have worked for you?

Lars Sudmann is an expert on high-performance leadership in global corporations. You can contact Lars to work with you as change consultant, executive coach, keynote speaker & workshop facilitator for your next event. This post has also appeared on his blog www.lars-sudmann.com, where you can also watch his TEDx talks.

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