Leadership development is personal

To become great leaders, managers must first develop a deeper understanding of themselves

Leader giving a presentation.

By Neil Stroul and Marsha King

Neil Stroul and Marsha King

Leadership and leadership development are two sides of the same coin—but they are not the same.

Countless definitions, models and frameworks have been developed over the past 75 years to describe leadership and what it means to be a leader. Yet, there is a huge gap between understanding leadership and actually becoming a great leader.

While it would be wonderful to have one overarching approach to developing leaders, this isn’t realistic. Leadership development is intensely personal and must be customized to address the uniqueness of each individual. This personalization is what enables good leaders to identify and capitalize on their strengths and close any potential gaps. 

Therefore, understanding your own development needs as a leader is critical. For example, it’s common for first-time managers to struggle with making the transition from being an individual performer to leading others. As an individual, you are responsible for getting work done. As a leader, you are responsible for getting work done through others. Not only does this shift require different skills (like goal-setting, delegation and coaching), it also requires a different mindset. Your mindset must shift from “My role is to get results” to “My role is to help others be successful,” which ultimately leads to greater results than you could have achieved alone.

Many leaders—even senior leaders—still see their primary role as doing and performing, rather than leading. Recognizing this tendency is critical to growing and developing into a great leader. And while shifting from individual contributor to team leader is a common issue, doing so successfully is not easy—and will look different for every leader, depending on your personality, behavioral tendencies, motivations, mindset, skills, experiences and other attributes.

Consider the inscription at the Oracle of Delphi: “Know Thyself.” When it comes to being an effective leader, truer words have never been spoken.

To develop a deeper understanding of yourself as a leader, consider the following questions:

  • Who do I become when I’m the person in charge?
  • What do I know about the attributes and capabilities of effective leaders, and how do I measure up?
  • Can I clearly articulate what I stand for and who I want to be as a leader?

Spend time exploring yourself and how you behave in a leadership role:

  • Are you controlling or do you empower your team?
  • Are you decisive or do you tend to defer to others?
  • Do you need others to like or approve of you, or are you okay with making unpopular calls and decisions?
  • How do you change under pressure?

This is only a sample of the questions you need to answer about yourself. For other questions, look at feedback you have received, any missed results or management issues, and other evidence that may point to opportunities to improve your leadership.

If you are able to candidly and objectively answer these kinds of questions, then you have your starting point as you embark on your leadership development journey. Only then can you identify and develop the personalized leadership development that will be most effective for you.

Neil Stroul, PhD, and Marsha King, PhD, co-facilitate the Leadership Coaching Certification program for the UB School of Management’s Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness (CLOE). Both Stroul and King are leadership coaches who focus on emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, change management and performance improvement.

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