- 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.
Whether you are a natural-born leader or have developed your leadership skills over time, there is always room for growth. One way to become a better leader is by setting leadership developmental goals. The goals you set should be geared toward improving your weaknesses and enhancing your leadership style.
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 work on will depend on your specific expertise and skill level.
1. Become an active listener.
A top trait among successful leaders is active listening. An effective leader facilitates a culture of clear communication and actively listens to what their team has to say (from entry-level to C-suite). Go into every conversation with the intention of listening to your team's insights, whether you receive positive or negative information.
"Showing your willingness to listen will instill a strong measure of trust and encourage people to be more vocal and share their ideas," Michele Hall-Duncan, president and CEO of the enCourage Kids Foundation, told Business News Daily. "This will naturally lead to productivity and forward movement toward accomplishing goals for both individuals and the organization."
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 it all, set a goal of being adaptable and open to learning new things. Openness to change puts you in a better position to successfully run your company. This is especially important during times like the COVID-19 pandemic, 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, but also have a plan to develop their capacity for emotional intelligence.
5. Become more efficient.
Business leaders often manage various conflicting responsibilities, which is why time management is so crucial. Identify ways you can 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.
The best organizations are diverse and inclusive, comprising unique individuals. A good leader can objectively identify the best employee for a job to create a successful, well-rounded team.
Klein said leaders often 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," said Snow. "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. These qualities facilitate trust between management and employees. This 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," said Snow.
Key takeaway: The top leadership development goals are often used to improve communication and business relationships.
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. You can create yours through a simple process.
- 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, causing 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 to achieve them.
- Track your progress. The goals can be for the long or short term, and you can have multiple ways to achieve them. However, if you have long-term goals, it can be helpful to break them 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.
Key takeaway: Write a few key leadership development goals based on your specific leadership weaknesses.
Importance of strong leadership
Company culture and employee expectations are defined by your organization's leadership. 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.
"Leaders are charged with having a vision, convincing others their vision is actionable and inspiring others to follow them," Hall-Duncan said. "No matter the size of the business, the ability to build a strong team, produce a good product or deliver a particular service all require strong leadership skills in order to successfully execute your business strategy."
Key takeaway: Since employees often take cues from their leaders on how to act, strong leadership is at the base of every successful company.