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Take Ownership of Your Development

Women are often overlooked for leadership development. Take matters into your own hands.

I was blessed in the early days of my career to work for some strong, incredibly competent leaders. Not only were they great at leading the organization I was part of, but they took a special interest in me. They were intentional and purposeful in creating opportunities for me to stretch and grow my leadership muscles. Whether it was giving me a chance to make a presentation at a business meeting or sending me to a conference for continued education, opportunities were extended to me before I knew to ask for them.

That gift of leadership development, however, became my expectation. I thought that I deserved intentional investment like that from my future leaders. Years later I collided with an unmet expectation. I believed that others would always be concerned about my leadership development. I found myself disappointed when other leaders didn’t provide growth opportunities for me. That unmet expectation would wake me up to some tough truths that I needed to face if I intended to grow as a leader.

Self-leadership doesn’t come without acknowledging some difficult realities. This part of leadership is not glamorous. It doesn’t get attention or affirmation. No one is singing your praises for leading yourself well, but I truly believe that if we can get this right, the rest of our leadership becomes an overflow.

Here are a few tough truths that we need to understand about self-leadership:

  • No one cares more about your personal development than you do.
  • No one is responsible for your leadership development.
  • You can’t wait for someone else to lead you.
  • No one owes you leadership.

These truths are tricky. We often don’t recognize that we have these expectations because most of our early lives these are healthy expectations. As we’re growing up, we do need someone to care more about our development than we do. We wait for others to lead us, and they are responsible for helping us grow. That’s part of the maturing process. Once we grow to adulthood, move into our first apartment, and start having to pay some bills, we’re forced to start taking responsibility for ourselves. But when it comes to our personal development, especially in the area of leadership, it’s not as easy to know when we’ve moved from adolescence to adulthood.

Accept Responsibility

In our human development, the real transition to adulthood happens when we begin to take responsibility for ourselves. This explains why some 18-year-olds move out, get a job, and make their own way—and why too many 30-year-olds are still squatting in their parents’ basement. The same is true for our leadership development. We will never “grow up” in our leadership development until we begin to take responsibility for our growth.

Let’s look at these tough truths a little more closely:

  • No one cares more about your personal development than you do.
  • No one else is responsible for your leadership development.

The leaders you admire have great intentions. They want to believe in you, support you, and invest in you (at least some of them do). But most of them are doing their best just to take care of themselves. They’re so consumed with their own responsibilities and their own development that they have little time or energy left over to look around and see whom they could be helping to develop.

That’s not to say you will never have a leader who sees great potential in you and makes a concerted effort to invest in training you and developing you; this tough truth is more about framing your expectations. If you can take responsibility early for your leadership development, you’ll be less likely to flounder around, wasting valuable time wallowing in unmet expectations of the leaders around you.

Remind yourself every day that you are your best champion. Then when a great leader takes an interest in developing you, it’s a bonus and a blessing. Your leadership development is your responsibility. Seize it.

Lead Yourself

Now let’s turn to the last two truths:

  • You can’t wait for someone else to lead you.
  • No one owes you leadership.

You’re a leader, and that means you’ve got to lead you. You have to take charge. You have to begin to define where you want to go, what you want to learn, and how you’re going to accomplish these things. This doesn’t mean, however, that you have to run alone. It just means that you’ve got to be the kickstarter. Define some next steps, and then pull in some wise counselors for support and guidance.

Leadership development is not a right. It’s an opportunity and a privilege. Don’t expect it to come to you. Go and get it.

A great example of someone who understood these tough truths was my friend and colleague, Steve. It was almost like the two of us had an unspoken contest over who could learn the most. If our boss talked about a book she was reading, Steve would purchase it and start reading it himself. He was always on the lookout for conferences to attend that would help him develop as a marketing manager. He was intentional about following up with people he met. He was eager to learn from people in both similar and different professions. Steve never wasted an opportunity to learn. He embraced his responsibility for self-leadership, and as a result his career development has never slowed down.

The tough truths of self-leadership aren’t meant to frustrate or demotivate you. They’re meant to challenge you, because if you understand the hard work of self-leadership and pour yourself into it without expectations of others or an entitled attitude, you will develop the character and core of an extraordinary leader. You will begin to lead yourself well, and from that place you’ll be equipped to lead others better.

Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach. She has also served as an executive leader at both Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California, and Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Taken from The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership by Jenni Catron. Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Catron a/k/a Jenni Catron. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.

September01, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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