leadership development plan

How to Create a Leadership Development Plan 

Some say good leadership is part of one’s nature, while others believe one becomes a good leader through experience.  While there might be no universal agreement on what makes an ‘ideal leader,’ it’s clear that good leadership skills can be learned.

Yes, it takes time, effort, and patience, but a good leader can leave an imprint. Adopting a deliberate and well-structured approach is crucial if you aspire to become a leader in your expertise or improve your leadership skills. 

This involves creating comprehensive leadership development plans, something we’ll dive into in this article.

Let’s start. 👇

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Understanding Leadership Development

Leadership development is the process of enhancing the skills and abilities of people within an organization to drive change and prepare themselves to lead teams and people. 

It involves activities like training, mentoring, and learning, aiming to enhance one’s skill set and develop one’s leadership qualities and competence.

Effective leadership in this age, as McKinsey points out in a recent issue, ‘New leadership for a new era of thriving organizations,’ involves,

  • Going beyond simply seeking profit and acting as a visionary who focuses on generating impact for all stakeholders
  • Planning against the competition by creating scarcity, creating new value as an architect with an abundance mindset
  • Commanding your employees with authority and extending to collaborating with them—acting as a catalyst to empower your team
  • Going beyond professionalism and treating yourself and others as authentic human beings

Leadership development is, thus, about learning to create more impact, creating value for you, your team, and your organization, acting as a catalyst for your team’s growth, and, most importantly, recognizing that human factor in the people you work with. It also helps you:

  • Develop better communication: Giving team members a voice encourages a work culture that is welcoming toward new ideas and helps avoid miscommunication
  • Have increased motivation and productivity: Assisting your team to feel motivated to give it their all, thus increasing productivity
  • Set and achieve long-term goals and develop a vision: Helping propagate long-term goals with focus and commitment among employees

Leadership and management: how do they differ?

Leadership and management are often thought of as synonymous, but they are not the same thing. Many great managers are also great leaders, but this is not always true. 

The primary goal of management is to ensure the smooth operation and efficient completion of tasks. This involves making decisions about setting priorities for your team, evaluating performance, selecting team members, and more. 

Leadership, on the other hand, is similar to coaching. A leader is responsible for keeping the team’s morale high, defining a specific direction, and nurturing all team members to be better versions of themselves. 

Leadership sees the human side of things. It focuses on influencing, motivating, and enabling others to contribute to organizational success wholeheartedly. While catering to some human elements, management does not always focus on individual and team development to the degree that leadership does. 

For instance, take two people, Jane and Alex, working in a tech company. As project manager, Jane ensures the team meets deadlines and stays on budget, focusing on short-term goals. 

Meanwhile, the team leader, Alex, inspires innovation and personal growth, fostering a collaborative environment that drives long-term success for each employee. Jane manages tasks; Alex leads people. 

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The Process of Creating a Leadership Development Plan

Becoming a good leader starts with creating an effective leadership development plan uniquely tailored to your personality, strengths, and weaknesses. 

A leadership development plan outlines specific steps to equip you with new skills and knowledge to help you grow as a leader.

While your organization may take the initiative to create a leadership development plan for your growth, you may also be its sole architect. Here’s a step-by-step guide to devising a successful leadership development plan that helps you grow and evolve.

Step 1: Assess your current professional skills

Your leadership development program should start by identifying your strengths, weaknesses, and work habits. This will help you understand ‌areas you can work on for personal and professional development. 

To improve yourself, engage in deep and thorough self-reflection while maintaining an open mind that recognizes your weaknesses and the areas or skills you struggle with.

This will help you recognize the pitfalls you might encounter on your journey to becoming a good leader. 

Some of the best ways to truly understand yourself are: 

  • Conduct a SWOT analysis: Analyze yourself using the SWOT framework that measures your strengths, weaknesses, growth opportunities, and threats. Here’s how to do it:
    • Strengths: Identify your core competencies, skills, and attributes that make you effective in your role
    • Weaknesses: Acknowledge areas where you lack skills or need improvement
    • Opportunities: Look for trends, networking opportunities, and areas for growth within your field
    • Threats: Consider external factors that could hinder your progress, such as industry changes 
  • Journaling: Keep a journal to document your daily and weekly progress, work experiences, and hindrances. Reflect on your interactions, decisions, and outcomes to look for patterns that need immediate attention
  • Seeking personal feedback: To better understand your work performance, reach out to colleagues and ask for their honest feedback on your strengths and areas for improvement. Additionally, request detailed assessments from your managers and supervisors. Use this feedback as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth by taking actionable steps to enhance your skills and address weaknesses

💡 Pro tip: Approach self-assessment with a growth mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities for improvement rather than failures. Embrace feedback with humility and gratitude. 

Step 2: Set attainable goals for leadership success

To be a successful leadership development plan, it should be composed of attainable goals. 

Leadership goals are well-defined objectives, either short or long-term, that help improve leadership skills by providing direction and clarity on what one must do.

Your leadership development goals could be to read five books in the next six months, build emotional intelligence by practicing meditation and better listening over the next few months, or participate more actively in networking events near your office.

Keep in mind that setting actionable goals isn’t always easy. But there’s an easy way for everyone to set their goals effortlessly. It’s Bernstein’s PACE model, an acronym for:

  • Pick a leadership goal: It’s easier to simply pick a goal and move forward with it than try your hand at multiple goals. If you’re uncertain about how to begin, seek guidance from your colleagues.
    Or simply approach your boss and say, “How can I enhance my performance in my role and contribute more positively as a team member?” Since a leader’s goal is to influence others more effectively, you will need to have conversations with other people about how you can do better
  • Apprise others of the goal: Share it with people closest to you once you’ve decided on a goal. This provides you with three significant benefits:
    • Increases accountability towards achieving your goals
    • Improves your professional relationships and builds trust
    • It gives you valuable feedback on your chosen goals

Research by Harvard Business School professors shows that asking for advice leaves a positive impression. The more transparent you are about your objectives, the more others will feel at ease seeking feedback from you in return.

  • Collect ideas: Simply sharing your ideas isn’t enough. You need to collect actionable ideas for improvement. But you need to be tactful here. Don’t just ask your colleagues, “How can I improve?” 

This often puts them on the spot and prevents them from giving good insights. They might also be afraid of unintentionally insulting you. So, provide them with enough time to formulate their ideas and get back to you

  • Collect feedback: Once you’ve defined your goals, collected ideas, and begun working on them, it’s time to request feedback on your progress. Allocate enough time to make meaningful progress before seeking feedback. Instead, consistently follow up with those you’ve shared your goal with and track your advancement

💡 Pro tip: Set clear and specific leadership goals, share them with colleagues for accountability and feedback, and consistently track your progress. Remember, clarity and communication are essential to effective goal-setting for leadership success.

Make sure your leadership development goals are also SMART: Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. 

For instance, instead of saying, “I want to improve my communication,” say, “I want to enhance my public speaking skills by attending a workshop and practicing bi-weekly presentations over the next three months.” This gives you more clarity on how exactly to start achieving it. 

Step 3: Role of mentorship in leadership development

A mentor provides guidance, support, and valuable insights for your personal growth and helps with your leadership development plan, which is an ongoing plan. The most valuable thing a mentor possesses is experience. A good mentor will share their knowledge and expertise to help mentees grow and excel. 

Focus on acquiring a mentor or a knowledge leader specializing in the field you’re trying to excel at. Mentors also provide access to networking opportunities and introduce mentees to new experiences. They will hold you accountable for your growth, thus improving your progress.

💡 Pro tip: If you can’t find a mentor in your immediate work environment, use the internet. Use search filters on social networking platforms like LinkedIn to find people with the expertise and background you seek. 

Look for mentorship initiatives offered by professional associations like the American Management Association (AMA) or industry-specific organizations.

Step 4: Engage in leadership training programs

Leadership training involves personalized coaching aimed at boosting your leadership skills and confidence. 

Leadership development programs usually include workshops, seminars, coaching sessions, and practical exercises to enhance specific leadership skills.

Irrespective of whether you’re at a mid or late stage of your career, it’s never too late for you to enter a leadership development program. 

In addition to learning skills, you will connect with professors and classmates who have your back and are ready to support you and share insights for career growth. 

And, of course, training sessions will give you a firm grasp on leadership basics like:

  • Communication skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Change management
  • Decision making
  • Teamwork building
  • And more

Remember to thoroughly research your prospective instructors and courses to ensure they align with your goals. 

💡 Pro tip: Don’t have enough time but still want to participate in leadership development programs? Coursera offers some great online courses that will help you excel in various facets of leadership.

The online Leadership and Management course that Harvard Business School provides has gained significant popularity among professionals. 

Step 5: Hone your soft skills

Soft skills involve little aspects of personality like listening, understanding others’ perspectives, and navigating tricky negotiations. 

Soft skills such as communication, empathy, adaptability, and problem-solving enable leaders to effectively manage teams, foster strong relationships, inspire others, and navigate challenges. 

These skills ultimately enhance both individual and organizational success.

How do you work on your soft skills? Here are some tips:

  • Practice active listening by engaging fully, clarifying your words, and providing feedback as a project leader
  • Improve non-verbal communication by maintaining eye contact, using open body language, and being mindful of your tone
  • Develop empathy by understanding the perspectives of other people, asking open-ended questions, acknowledging feelings, and offering support
  • Practice regularly by implementing your soft skills in daily interactions and engaging in role-playing to simulate various situations
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Leadership Styles and Strategies

Your way of leading your teammates will differ from what your colleagues might have in mind. These differences can be constituted broadly under leadership styles

Leaders employ these behavioral approaches to influence, motivate, and direct their followers. Your leadership style shapes how you put plans into action and achieve goals, all while ensuring your team’s well-being and satisfaction and meeting stakeholders’ expectations.

In a study cited in a Harvard Business Review article by Daniel Coleman, over 3,000 mid-level managers were examined to understand how different leadership behaviors impact profits. A manager’s leadership style alone can influence 30% of a company’s profitability.

So, let’s examine some of the most popular leadership styles in business. Understanding them uncovers different ways leaders could work. 

1. Democratic leadership

The leader makes decisions based on the team’s input. While the power to make the final call rests with the leader, every member’s voice is essential and has an impact. 

Democratic leadership focuses on inclusivity, collaboration, horizontal communication, empowering team members, building trust, and empathy. It works because it encourages all participants to participate in ‌ business proceedings, share their opinions, and nurture their personal growth. 

Imagine you’re on a project team developing a new app, and your project manager, Emma, uses democratic leadership. Every week, you gather for brainstorming sessions where everyone’s ideas and opinions are heard.

When deciding on the app’s main features, Emma makes sure everyone gets a vote. This way, your input matters, and the team feels more invested and motivated to succeed. This is the essence of democratic leadership. 

There are specific challenges to this style, though. Getting everyone to agree can be a real time-drain. Plus, it might slow decision-making without everyone having the expertise to make those tough calls.

2. Autocratic leadership

The complete opposite of democratic leadership, autocratic leadership involves making decisions without team feedback or disregarding team input. 

It revolves around centralized power, vertical communication channels, minimal discussions, and an overall aversion to feedback and criticism. 

We don’t advise you to adopt this business style for your everyday operations as it’s characterized by intimidation, micromanagement, and leader dependence. However, this becomes particularly useful in emergencies or during management changes

For example, imagine this scenario: You’re suddenly faced with an incredibly tight deadline, and upper management is adamant about meeting it. There’s no time for lengthy discussions or gradual improvements. This is a critical situation where autocratic leadership truly excels. 

It’s about carrying out leadership strategies with absolute force, making quick, best-fit decisions, and doing whatever you can to keep things afloat and on time. 

3. Laissez-faire leadership

Lasissez-faire translates to ‘let them do it.’ This leadership style involves giving your employees free rein and not interfering in their work unless the situation demands it. 

It makes employees accountable for their decisions and incentivizes them to do their best and nurture themselves. Key characteristics include limited direction, minimal intervention, high autonomy, trust, and empowerment. 

This leadership philosophy works best in young organizations like startups. Leaders trust their employees completely, and the desire to work becomes intrinsic. Employees feel valued and can take credit for their work. 

Some challenges to this strategy include limited team development, multiple challenges for inexperienced team members, and unclear roles leading to confusion. 

4. Strategic leadership

This leadership style seeks to find a middle ground between a company’s primary operations and growth opportunities. The leader is responsible for making crucial executive decisions while prioritizing creating and maintaining a sustainable work environment for their teammates. 

This style emphasizes accountability, productivity, collaboration, and transparency as its key characteristics. It helps support and sustain many different kinds of employees while also working towards the common business goal in the long run. 

Imagine you’re leading a project team at work. You know that spreading tasks among your team members boosts productivity and helps everyone grow. So, you take the time to figure out who’s best at what and delegate accordingly. This is a way of strategic leadership. 

However, challenges ensue. When leaders focus too much on the big picture and future possibilities, they can become intimidated, micromanaged, leader-dependent, and overlook important issues.

These were some of the most common leadership styles. Here are some more:

  • Transformational Leadership
  • Transactional Leadership
  • Coaching Leadership
  • Bureaucratic Leadership
  • Visionary Leadership
  • Pacesetting Leadership
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Challenges in Creating a Leadership Development Plan

An effective leadership development plan is essential. However, when developing one that you can execute practically, you must understand and overcome specific challenges. 

Here are some of the challenges you might face when devising your LDP.

Challenge 1: A lack of resources

Setting aside a budget for leadership development programs may not become a top priority due to increased competition, regulations, and other challenges. 

Let’s face it: training sessions or any other resources you spend as a leader are expensive and take up much time.

What’s the solution? Think outside the box. 

Consider virtual training. E-programs are significantly cheaper and more accessible to team members during non-working hours. You can even return to training videos to quickly revise what you learned.

Challenge 2: Lack of commitment

Your leadership, managers, and organization might not have a culture of learning and nurturing leaders. This can become a significant hurdle. Moreover, let’s say you get the theoretical part out of the way. But what about putting it into practice?

Ideally, any training program should include built-in accountability, meaning there are clear goals you can measure, whether they’re short-term or long-term. But that’s not always the case.

The simplest solution to this issue is to take personal accountability and involve your inner circle in the development process. 

Challenge 3: Feedback resistance

It’s simple to tell you to keep an open mind. But it’s not always easy to accept criticism. Difficulty in accepting and acting on constructive criticism can hinder growth.

If you can’t resolve this issue, the best solution is to seek counseling and develop a positive attitude. 

Challenge 4: Time management

You might find it challenging to devote additional time to your personal leadership development. However, there is a simple solution that depends entirely on your commitment to the cause. 

Consider a project management application like ClickUp to demarcate time across various daily activities. It helps you create and manage your schedule by allowing you to break down tasks into subtasks, view your schedule in ClickUp Calendar, set up recurring tasks, allocate specific time blocks, and receive reminders. 

ClickUp Calendar
Use ClickUp Calendar to see where you spend your time and keep track of both personal and work-related tasks

The mobile app also allows you to track personal goals and stay organized. This makes it easy to stay productive and ensures you never miss a deadline.

Follow this schedule to the tee to get the most out of the 24 hours you have on hand. 

And don’t forget to balance work and leisure because the last thing you want to do is burn yourself out. That’s because leaders are increasingly showing signs of burnout, with 72% feeling exhausted at the end of the day, up from 60% in 2020. Tools like ClickUp can help you save up to 1 day each week.

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Monitoring Progress and Review

Congrats! If you’ve developed and implemented a coherent leadership development plan, it’s time to see your progress. 

Are you heading in the right direction? Are you truly improving? You now have to answer these questions.

Why? Because appraising your performance is a central aspect of your leadership development journey. It can help you:

  • Be consistent 
  • Redefine the elements of leadership training and development depending on your immediate needs
  • Be more focused on identifying what needs more attention

Monitoring your progress also helps reset your goals, provide feedback, encourage self-development, ensure recognition and accountability, and personalize leadership development programs.

But how do you monitor whether you’re on the right track? Is there a tool that may help? 

Well, you’re in luck. ClickUp has everything you will ever need. This Project Management Software is a one-stop solution for all your management and workflow needs. 

It has dedicated ClickUp Personal Development Plan and ClickUp Leadership Team Health Monitor templates. 

You can even gamify your leadership journey by setting strict point-based goals. Let’s see how.

ClickUp’s Personal Development Plan Template is designed to help you stay organized and motivated on your personal development journey.

ClickUp Personal Development Plan Template helps you:

  • Identify areas for improvement and set realistic expectations
  • Track progress toward goals and reflect on successes
  • Organize resources, tasks, and timelines all in one place
ClickUp’s Leadership Team Health Monitor Template is designed to help you monitor the overall health of your leadership team.

And if you’re already leading and managing a team, the Team Health Monitor template offers a comprehensive overview of your team’s well-being, allowing you to:

  • Gather real-time performance insights
  • Identify areas for improvement and growth
  • Track progress over time to ensure success

These two give you complete control over personal and team-based leadership development. You can customize everything from statuses and fields to views (List, Gantt, Workload, Calendar, and more) and project management techniques. 

Through a unified platform, you enable honest, open dialogue and feedback from multiple team members. The shared goals also ensure that everyone is on the same page. 

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Boost Your Leadership Skills With ClickUp

We’ve seen how vital a leadership development plan is to ascend to higher positions in your company. We also saw how you must set goals, engage in fruitful discussions, and pick a leadership style, while constantly monitoring your progress and improving your skills. 

ClickUp Goals 
Set and track goals to turn milestones into moments of team pride with ClickUp Goals 

To do all of this efficiently, you need an app like ClickUp. In addition to the templates we discussed above, ClickUp’s many features let you review your personal and team’s growth like no other app can. 

For instance, you can use ClickUp Goals to track your progress as you accomplish targets from your leadership development plan. 

ClickUp’s SMART Goals Template is designed to help you create and track goals for yourself or your team.

If you prefer a template-based approach, go for ClickUp’s SMART Goals Template. This ClckUp template lets you write goals broken down into smaller, achievable steps you can achieve one at a time. You can also set custom statuses for each task to see how close you are to achieving them, along with options like adding custom fields and five different view options to keep track of your progress with the most granular insights,

Manage end-to-end operations with ClickUp
ClickUp Task Priorities let you tell teammates what’s more urgent or what’s at risk 

You can also optimize task management by using ClickUp’s Task Priorities feature. This feature lets you better manage your personal goals or even your team responsibilities.

Real-time editing and commenting in ClickUp Docs
Use ClickUp Docs to keep note of anything and everything

Moreover, you can summarize reports and take notes about anything with ClickUp Docs.

So, what are you waiting for? If you are thinking about doing it tomorrow, do it today, and if you are thinking about doing it later, do it now. Every second is precious. Sign up to ClickUp for free to start your leadership development journey. 

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