10X your Leadership Impact: Leadership Development Planning to Elevate Impact and Achieve Extraordinary Results

By: Suzanne Qualia - Published on June 10th, 2024

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

This quote, attributed to Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, aptly applies to the topic of leadership development planning. We will explore how to create a “YES, AND…” as it relates to leadership development planning. YES, planning is important in providing purpose, clarity and direction AND so is being open to embracing the twists and turns of the development as it unfolds in order to achieve the vision and create the ultimate success you are looking for.

Last month’s article covering the Growth and Development (G&D) dialog serves as the critical input to this month’s Leadership Development Planning (LDP) process. The first two steps of the model (Define Success and Assess Gaps) provide inputs to step three of the G&D model. Close the gaps.

During the course of the powerful growth and development coaching (either self or with others!), you’ve identified the gaps. Now it’s time to create an actionable development plan to close the gaps. This is where rubber meets the road.

This month is about turning discussions, insights and theory into practice via a robust Leadership Development Planning (LDP) process as output.

Meaning:

What does it mean to create a Leadership Development Plan (LDP)?

The LDP process is designed to simply capture the action planning steps that will be required to elevate the 1-2 behaviors that resulted from the insights gleaned during the third step of the G & D process: Close the Gaps.

  • What’s not important – form/format: I will offer an example template in the Methods section of this toolkit. However, form and format is not critical to the success of plan achievement.
  • What is important – the dialog and thinking process: This is the critical success factor! I’ve had at least a couple leaders who I’ve coached through this process tell me that just the process of thinking through the prompting questions and reflecting on their answers caused them to show up differently and handle situations differently than they would have otherwise. Basically, stepping into new ways of acting/showing up just by mentally rehearsing those new ways of being.
    • The power isn’t in writing it down; the power is in visualizing and dreaming of a better way! Writing it down helps you remember.

How does it differ (or not?) from your Performance Management planning or annual goals and objectives planning process?

Many leaders find that a separate plan dedicated to the soft skills or leadership behavior development planning is advantageous for the following reasons:

  • Differing timelines – The LDP is designed to be a living, breathing, on-going plan. It is not time-bound by the same mileposts and timelines of the more (often) rigid or structured performance management or annual goal-setting process. The LDP is evergreen and does not (should not) shift based on new leadership, primarily.
  • Differing focus – The LDP is often focused on the “being” (how am I showing up as a leader?) aspects or leadership behaviors vs. tactical, more tangibly measured “doing” aspects of the job.
  • Differing ownership – The LDP is your personal and professional focused development plan, not tied to a particular role (it can be crafted around an aspirational role!) or a particular boss or reporting structure. It is owned by the creator, not the company or employer.

When and what aspects of the LDP should change, similar to when Performance Management or annual goal-setting process is tweaked?

The factors that can precipitate a shift in LDP focus (similar to the other formal tools mentioned here) are:

  • Job changes – What new leadership behaviors now become important?
  • Strategy and/or business climate changes – What new leadership behaviors now surface as most critical within the new strategy or the new business climate? For example, maybe change leadership wasn’t on the radar for development. But now with new competitive pressures or a change in strategy, excellent change leadership is now key.
  • Refresh of development goals – You have achieved your vision and measures of success on the original 1-2 development area focus. What’s next for you in order to continue elevating your leadership impact?

Mindsets:

What mindsets might get in the way of stepping into the LDP process? What new beliefs, attitudes and perspectives might be more empowering? Let’s look at some common obstacles:

OBSTACLE: The belief that LDP creation is a complex process.

Instead: Focus on “How can we make this simple?” Simplicity and clarity are the keys to success. As we’ll explore in the methods section, use the prompting questions as a guide. But as mentioned in the Meaning section, it doesn’t matter if it’s written on a napkin or in a formal template. It’s the dialog and introspection/reflection that matter. Putting the ideas into your brain already gets you into action!

OBSTACLE: The belief that the LDP process is “outside of” my normal job (and I won’t have time for this).

Instead: The keys to closing the leadership development gaps is all about the answer to the question: What experiences do I need to create in order to elevate my impact in XYZ area? That being said, focus on the day-to-day for ideas on what challenging current assignments and projects you can step into more fully (as part of your 70%!) as inputs to create the crucible to practice the behaviors you are trying to imbed as your new leadership behavior habits. As an example, where are you avoiding conflict today in your role? Where can you consciously choose to “step into that conflict” more confidently to create elevated impact and outcomes for you and your team? Very often, one doesn’t have to look too far to find great inputs for experience creation. And this is easily dovetailed into the day-to-day and doesn’t become something “extra” to think about or focus on!

It’s about changing habits of leadership behavior – to change a habit it takes practice and that means getting into action. Too many LDPs are aspirational. “Someday I will do X (when I have time).”  Well thought out LDPs create awareness around which day-to-day actions will create the opportunities for experience creation and leadership impact elevation. 

OBSTACLE: It’s hard to measure elevated leadership behaviors, so why bother?

Instead: Challenge that assumption. Is that really true? There are measures all around that are directly correlated with elevated leadership impact (or the lack thereof)! Some examples:

  • Level of rework/redo by the team on decisions previously made – how much time is lost as a result of that?
  • Team productivity?
  • Team Engagement scores?
  • Team retention %?
  • How long does it take to make decisions today? What would the desirable amount of time be?
  • How am I “feeling” as a leader? Am I stressed? Am I approaching burnout? How is my work life balance? How is my confidence level? What is my impact on others?
    • These “feelings” should not be overlooked. You know how you are feeling. If you write your LDP goal in a way that will result in you feeling better in 6 months as a result of elevating your impact in areas such as conflict management, problem solving, relationship building or team building, you will KNOW at the end of 6 months how you are feeling. That’s a valid measurement!

OBSTACLE: Short-term results focus vs. long-term development mindset focus

Instead: Shift your thinking from “How will development net immediate or short-term results?” to “How can this investment of focus and effort create long-term advantages? Some of these long-term advantages are:

  • Succession planning pool development – ability to hire from within vs. sourcing talent from the outside and avoiding negative perceptions, and connotations of that, (i.e., why does my company put their trust in hiring outside unknown talent over investing in growing internal known and trusted talent?), not to mention cost and time savings.
  • Higher levels of engagement and motivation – due to the willingness to invest in development and allow the time and space to do so.
  • Higher retention levels – people who feel invested in will stay with an organization longer.

OBSTACLE: We have a robust catalog of training programs and already offer executive coaching within our company. Isn’t that enough?

Instead: Lessen the overfocus on the role of formal training and coaching as standalone development tools and instead, incorporate them as integral pieces of creating the total “experience.”

Be open to shifting your thinking to YES, AND… That is, YES formal training and coaching are important support elements in ensuring growth and development, AND they are holistically integrated as part of the overall “experience” process creation.

Motivations:

Experiences are the secret sauce.

Leadership development is all about creating the right challenging experiences to stretch us into new ways of thinking, doing and being as a leader. Development of new leadership behaviors and giving up the old (that aren’t working). Experience is your best teacher, it’s that simple.

Morgan Mcall, Jr, from University of Southern California and a well-known researcher and contributor in the leadership development space for many years says, “Experience – not genetics, not training program, not business school – is the primary source of learning to lead, and although our understanding of this kind of experience is far from complete, it is absolutely the place to start.” (McCall MW. Recasting Leadership Development. Industrial and Organizational Psychology. 2010;3(1):3-19. doi:10.1111/j.1754-9434.2009.01189.x)

Methods:

Craft meaningful experiences with the LDP:

How best to craft an overall “experience” that is meaningful and captures the elements that will close the gaps identified as outputs in the G & D process?

Tapping into McCall again, “Somewhat less certain is the resulting folklore that there is a ‘70-20-10’ rule that experience should consist of 70% challenging assignments, 20% other people, and 10% programs.” In the original data, those “other people” almost always were either excellent or terrible bosses and senior executives who, more often than not, were neither good coaches nor mentors. (I have not found an original published source, though the percentages clearly come from data reported in McCall et al. (1988) and Lindsey, Homes, and McCall (1987))

“Although the rule of thumb makes a positive contribution by increasing the emphasis on on-the-job experience, it also misleads by suggesting that coaching, mentoring and programs are effective when used as stand-alone interventions. In fact, the best use of all three is in support of on-the-job development, most especially in real time as job experiences unfold.”

I want to emphasize the last two critical sentences of the above Morgan McCall quote. Coaching and, more importantly, formal training programs are ineffective when used as standalone development interventions. The 70-20-10 is a “guide” in terms of the proportionality that should be considered when crafting the overall experiences that will elevate impact and close the gaps.

Achieve Balance in the LDP plan.

70-20-10 is offered as a “guide” to consider the ratio of the three important critical elements of creating an “experience” that will provide the learning crucible for closing the leadership behavior gap being focused on.

  • 70% challenging assignments (within or outside of current role)
  • 20% other people – coach, leader, mentor, professional organizations, industry organizations, etc.
  • 10% formal training programs

What causes things to get out of balance?

  • See all the mindset obstacles covered earlier. This section is the summary of what creates an imbalance of approach!

Craft the plan!

This is one example of how to document the reflections and answers to the important prompting questions. The magic of the LDP falls out from capturing the outputs of the thought process, not the form or format that it takes. As mentioned earlier, recording on a napkin can have the same impact as a fancy document.

10X your Leadership Impact: Leadership Development Planning to Elevate Impact and Achieve Extraordinary Results

Fill out your plan in the following order for EACH development goal you are crafting:

  1. What does success look like? This is a key question and the place to start in drafting the LDP goal/plan. Pretend you have a magic wand, fast forward one year, see yourself being AWESOME in conflict management, relationship building, whatever leader behavior you are working on elevating. What are you doing differently than today, what results are you achieving as a result? What impact are you having on others as a result of your elevated impact? How are they feeling and thinking and acting? Go big with your dream and vision. This is a critical starting point!
  2. How will I measure success? Jump then to the far right column. When you are achieving the vision you have created, how will you know? And only YOU have to know. Write it such that in whatever time period you are focusing on – 3 months, 6 months, etc. that YOU will know the needle has moved. How will you be feeling? How will your team be performing? What will your engagement scores be like? How will retention improve on your team?
  3. What will I do to learn more? This should constitute only 10% of your plan. For every ONE formal training program, book you read, etc., proportionally, you will want to have at least two OTHERS and seven challenging practice, application or assignment areas. So, start with formal training and limit yourself here and don’t go overboard. Because as we know, formal training is a support piece, NOT the focal point of leadership development. It’s in the service of creating the total experience, NOT the total experience.
  4. Who will I connect with and what will I ask for? This is the 20% OTHERS in your plan. Who will provide the best support for you in achieving your goals? A leader, mentor, coach, who?
  5. How will I gain experience and/or practice? This is the 70%, where the experience part of your plan will come to life. Just as the question states – what are those CHALLENGING assignments, projects, meetings, situations in your day-to-day role that will provide the crucible for your learning? This is the “gold” of your plan. The ideas you put in this section of the plan should make you slightly uncomfortable. They should be areas that today you avoid, don’t have the confidence to step into, etc. These are the very areas that will stretch your leadership muscle the most, creating greater strength and thereby greater impact, leading you to goal achievement!

In conclusion, the LDP process is the “secret sauce.” It’s the execution planning piece for all the growth and development dialogs and desires that have taken place so far. You have now turned your discussions, insights and theory into a practice and execution plan via a robust Leadership Development Planning (LDP) process. You now have in your hands the tools you need to become that leader that everyone wants to work for!

If a complimentary 30-minute strategy session would be helpful as a next step to upleveling your LDP plan creation skills, click here. Let’s do this!