Having a continuous improvement and learning mindset is critical for having successful life-long development. As leaders we can do much more to encourage our teams and ourselves to focus on the lasting acquisition of knowledge and skills – whether that is through experience, study, or by being taught. Following the lead of one of my former bosses, who had a unique passion for talent development, I pulled and reviewed the talent development plans for 50 leaders in my organization. It is a humbling experience to see the tremendous amount of skills and diversity of capabilities across the different teams. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into some of the incredible journeys and adventures folks have experienced. As I completed my review and reflected upon the criticality of continuous development, I though about a couple of key aspects a leader may want to pay more attention to:
Link passion to development. We often focus our development discussions around how to better meet business objectives, which is important, but sometimes misses the connection to what motivates an individual to be successful. I think it is paramount to understand the passions, desires and ambitions before identifying development objectives. They need to be linked. Many development plans completely omit a discussion around this but could be so much more powerful if they did. More importantly, leaders should take every opportunity to talk to their teams about how their development journey supports their passions.
Connect strengths to experiences. Over time, through education and experiences, we all build strengths and capabilities. However, when we go through the development planning process, we sometime tend to label and generalize strengths into broad categories – such as "good problem solver" or "strong strategic agility". I think it is important to articulate strengths in the context of experiences and how they have shaped and influenced a strength. The best development plans read like "mini stories" amplifying skills gained through experience and making it real!
Encourage a "double-down on strengths" mindset. Sometimes, we tend to differentiate or separate development opportunities from strengths. Many development plans list 3 different strengths and 3 different opportunities for improvement. The best plans I have seen don't do this. Rather, they double down on how an individual's strength can be further enhanced, or developed into an exceptional strength. The best plans clearly link an opportunity to an existing skill or capability.
Bridge experiences, capabilities and passions to be in servitude to purpose. Bringing skills and capabilities, past experiences as well as dreams and passions together to articulate a "purpose" can be the best way to prioritize development objectives and goals. However, that requires honest and deep thinking, is difficult, time-consuming and requires an exploration of values. Unfortunately, many development plans and processes end-up as administrative exercises versus deep self-reflection and discussion. I think strong leaders make the time for this and find ways to create an authentic connection with their teams to create development opportunities in servitude to their purpose.
Foster a growth mindset. Leaders can play a unique role in fostering a growth mindset across teams. For me a growth mindset is all about being interested in different concepts and topics, being open-minded to explore the implication of change, a willingness to listen to other's perspectives and a desire to get better and improve. Of course, this goes beyond development and applies to change resiliency, operational excellence and continuous improvement. Most importantly, a growth mindset is a core attribute of a winning team and culture. Talent is something which can and must be continuously developed and worked on. As leaders, one of our key responsibility is to develop the talent across our teams, which will prepare them better for change, improve day-to-day execution and will lead to more successful business outcomes.
As leaders it is critical to focus on a genuine conversation and ongoing dialogue around development with our teams. It can't be a once a year exercise, it must be ongoing, fluid and constantly revisited to adjust to new environmental factors or contexts. An unwavering focus on development is important from a business-as-usual perspective, but even more critical in change and transformation. Quoting the great Brazilian soccer player Pele: "Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do". Let's keep developing!