- Every business leader can improve their leadership skills.
- You should set actionable leadership development goals that you can track.
- Most leadership development goals center on improving communication and relationships.
- This article is for small business owners, supervisors and managers who want to develop their leadership skills.
Being a leader is not just a position in a hierarchy, a higher pay grade or additional responsibilities – it is a skill set that you should be continually developing. Every leader at every level of experience and skill has room for growth, but the thought of setting and achieving leadership goals may leave you wondering where to begin. There are 10 basic leadership development goals that, depending on your position and skill level, you should strive toward. Once you have identified the goal(s) you want to strive for, the next step is to develop an action plan to help you achieve them and track your progress. Following this process will help you become the leader your organization deserves.
Why good leadership matters
Good leadership can make all the difference in the workplace. Without it, employee morale and productivity will inevitably suffer. Leadership mistakes are common, but anyone can learn how to lead more effectively. Whether you are a natural-born leader or have developed your leadership skills over time, there is always room for growth.
The first step to becoming a better leader is improving your self-awareness. This will help you identify and set leadership development goals, which is the next step towards becoming a better leader. The goals you set should be geared toward improving your weaknesses and enhancing your leadership style.
Tip: Identify your leadership style with a DiSC assessment. Based on your responses to a series of questions, it will determine your main personality type and the values you prioritize. This will bring the strengths and weaknesses of your management style into focus, increasing your self-awareness and informing your goals.
10 leadership development goals
We spoke with a number of business owners and leadership experts to identify the top development goals every leader can work toward. Keep in mind that the leadership qualities you need to develop will depend on your specific expertise and skill level.
1. Become an active listener.
Active listening is a top trait among successful leaders. An effective leader facilitates a culture of clear communication and actively listens to what their team has to say (whether those team members are entry-level or C-suite). Enter every conversation with the intention of listening to your team’s insights, whether those are positive or negative.
2. Offer constructive feedback that facilitates growth.
Companies that foster clear communication and employee growth often do so through feedback. As a leader, you can drive your team to excellence by providing constructive feedback that focuses on improvement, not fault. Giving feedback is more than just reviewing someone’s behavior – when done correctly, it can stimulate growth and development. Create an environment where your team feels confident in the intent of your feedback.
“Learn to give feedback in a way that reinforces and affirms the things that people are doing well so that they continue to do those things, but also develop a skill set where you can give feedback around places that need to be optimized in a way that a person is left with a sense of encouragement to grow or [feels] inspired that they can do better,” said Joey Klein, CEO and founder of Conscious Transformation.
3. Be adaptable to change and growth.
Instead of assuming you know everything, set a goal of being adaptable and open to learning. Openness to change puts you in a better position to successfully run your company. This is especially important during periods of economic restructuring, when you may need to pivot resources or business operations to accommodate the change in the economy. Staying open-minded to new opportunities and new ways of doing business will help you (and your company) grow over time.
4. Improve your emotional intelligence (EQ or EI).
Successful leaders often have high emotional intelligence. The five major components of EQ are self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, social regulation and motivation. These traits help with making decisions, setting goals and managing stress, which are all key elements of leadership. Although some leaders are naturally gifted with high EQ, it is something that can be improved. Klein said every leader should have a clear understanding of what emotional intelligence is and a plan to develop their capacity for it.
5. Become more efficient.
Business leaders often manage various conflicting responsibilities, which is why time management is so crucial. Identify ways you could become more efficient (in your individual responsibilities as well as business operations) and work toward those goals. As you become more efficient, you will have more time to spend improving other skills and accomplishing other tasks.
6. Build dynamic teams.
Klein said leaders tend to hire people who are a lot like themselves. However, to thrive, businesses are better served by an eclectic team with a dynamic skill set.
“Business leaders need to get good at evaluating if an individual is right to fulfill the outcome that the business has while being a great fit for the culture,” Klein said. “The more eclectic teams that they can build that are still in coherence with each other, the better.”
7. Lead by example.
The culture and foundation of a business start with its leadership. If you want an organization that facilitates open communication and teamwork, you have to embody those traits. Consequently, if you set a poor example, your employees will likely follow that as well.
“As a leader, you should lead during this time with exemplary actions,” said Daniel Snow, CEO and founder of The Snow Agency. “You should lead by example and not illustrate how turbulent times may be affecting you on a personal level.”
8. Be a mentor.
Good leaders are also mentors. Your team looks to you for coaching, counseling and guidance, so make effective mentorship a priority when setting goals. Create a development plan that helps each team member grow as an individual and in their role.
Eliza Nimmich, co-founder and chief operating officer of Tutor the People, said top leaders meet with each member of their team to explore their career goals.
“Work with them then to think about ways they can achieve these goals,” Nimmich said. “Give them regular feedback and advice after your meeting to help them along the way. Show them that you care about their personal development by taking the time to listen to them and with new opportunities to challenge them.”
9. Show appreciation, recognition and empathy for your team.
Every great leader recognizes that a business’s biggest asset is its employees. Express gratitude and appreciation for your team, especially when they reach a new milestone. Having a team of satisfied employees can boost productivity and reduce turnover rates.
“Recognize your staff publicly so they know that they are valued and appreciated,” Snow said. “Acknowledge that all of the work they are doing is not taken for granted and they are a very important asset to your company. Have a companywide meeting where staff can give a shoutout to each other on who has been helping them in every way possible or who has gone above and beyond.”
10. Be honest, transparent and accountable.
Every business leader should be honest and transparent with their team, and always take accountability for their actions. Being an honest, transparent and accountable leader requires humility. Humble leadership means you must be willing to admit your failures and mistakes, and be willing to listen to your customers and employees with an open mind. These qualities facilitate trust between management and employees, which is especially important during times of uncertainty.
“While turbulent times can clearly affect every industry for better or worse, you need to be able to give employees notice and be transparent with your plans so that everyone is aligned on your vision,” Snow said.
Tip: Using the right language is an important part of being an effective leader. Proper communication with your team will result in happier employees, lower turnover and a well-functioning work environment for everyone. Here are some ways to improve communication with your employees.
How to write leadership development goals
Not everyone has the same strengths and weaknesses, so leadership goals need to be specific and customized to each leader. Use this simple process to help you create and track progress on your leadership development goals.
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses. When writing leadership development goals, start by objectively identifying your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. If you are having a hard time seeing your weaknesses, consider seeking feedback from a trusted advisor, your team or a leadership assessment tool.
- Choose an area to improve. Choose a weakness (or multiple weaknesses) you want to improve. Focus on just one or two at a time; trying to improve too many areas at once may become overwhelming and cause you to lose focus.
- Set development goals and a road map to achieve them. Choose three or four development goals that will help you improve your weaknesses. Experts recommend setting SMART (specific, measured, achievable, realistic and time-based) goals and building a road map for how to achieve them.
- Track your progress. The goals can be long-term, short-term, or both, and you can use multiple strategies to achieve them. However, it can be helpful to break long-term goals down into smaller short-term objectives that can be tracked weekly.
- Revisit, reassess, and readjust. Leadership skills can be continually improved upon. As you reach your development goals, reassess your leadership skills and choose new areas to work on.
Tip: Strong leadership is important, but it is nothing without ethical leadership. Ethical leadership ensures both a healthy work environment and a positive brand image. Enact positive values that prioritize others’ rights and dignity, both in the public eye and behind closed doors.
Importance of strong leadership
Your organization’s leadership defines company culture and employee expectations. Employees look to business leaders to determine how they should behave, so the effect of your organization’s actions (good or bad) will be emulated throughout the company.
Jocelyn Pollock contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.