Henri Rousseau didn’t follow the traditional path that most artists of his time did. Whereas most famous artists of his day received formal training at the hands of other artistic masters, Rousseau followed his own path. Unlike many others, Rousseau didn’t get started painting until the age of 40. He worked as a clerk, which fortunately gave him enough free time to take up painting as a hobby. Part of his self-training involved going to the Louvre to make sketches of the famous paintings on display there. It was on these trips that he developed his skills.
Early in his career, critics derided him as an untrained artist who thought himself good enough to stand among the greats. But soon, his talent became undeniable and he gained a following that saw him for the genius he was.
On the surface, Rousseau seemed to have no chance of succeeding due to his disadvantages. Starting later in life with no formal training, he could have given up or simply kept painting as a fun hobby. However, Rousseau believed in developing his skills, pushing through the challenges, and becoming better for them.
Today, people can find some of his work in the Louvre.
Leaders have much to learn from his example as he displayed what Angela Duckworth describes as grit. In her words, “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” Grit does not come from talent or luck. It represents staying true to your goals and learning from mistakes. Grit also keeps you going, even when failure seems certain. For these reasons, it’s a key component of leadership development and necessary for all great leaders.
In this article, you will learn more about:
- What leadership development is
- How to engage in mindful leadership
- What you should know about disciplined leadership development
- And what it takes for someone who wants to put in the work to be a better leader
What is Leadership Development?
Leadership development is how an individual grows into a capable and effective leader. This happens by developing the necessary leadership qualities to take on important roles in their organization. Some of the qualities and traits gained through leadership development include problem-solving, decision-making, having a grand vision, delegating authority, providing motivation, team-building, and essential communication skills.
Leadership development can happen through formal means, such as through a program from your organization. Leadership development programs are common among many companies. In fact, many business leaders have gone through executive leadership development programs to gain the skills they use in their jobs.
But formal leadership development training isn’t the only way to gain necessary leadership skills. Many people may learn these skills informally, whether on-the-job or in their everyday lives. Some may choose to seek out the right training on their own, take classes, or find a mentor to help them in their professional development.
No matter how a person seeks leadership development, they become a valuable member of the team by doing so. Even if they don’t hold an executive title, they can still positively influence others around them. Such leaders can prove their worth at any level of an organization.
How to Cultivate Your Own Leadership Development
1. Practice Mindful Leadership
You don’t just wake up one day and decide you’re a leader. Leadership development doesn’t work like that. It takes consistent effort and dedication to develop leadership skills others can benefit from.
The first thing you need to do in your leadership development journey is to decide what kind of leader you want to become. With this goal in mind, you’ll have a destination you can shoot for. As Warren Bennis explains, “First and foremost, find out what it is you’re about, and be that. Be what you are, and don’t lose it. […] It’s very hard to be who we are because it doesn’t seem to be what anyone wants.”
How to determine what type of leader you want to be:
- Make a list of leaders you admire. Start by writing down the leaders you look up to. These can be people who are close to you, like a parent or teacher you had growing up. They can also be authors you read or public speakers you listen to. Take a look at people in your faith community and note which one of them makes a great leader. Big business leaders are also a possibility if you admire their principles and business practices. The leaders you list can be famous or obscure. They can be spiritual in nature, like Martin Luther King, Jr., or known for innovative thinking, like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. They also don’t need formal leadership training or be part of an executive leadership development program. All they need is to be a leader you respect and want to imitate in some fashion.
- Write down the characteristics you admire from them. Once you have your list of leaders down, continue your leadership development by listing what you admire about them. Do you love the optimism and forward-thinking attitude of Walt Disney? Write that down. Do you admire the steadfast determination of Oprah Winfrey? Note it as well. Listing these leaders’ positive traits will help you see what traits you admire the most and what you need to work on as part of your leadership development. Other characteristics may include wisdom, faith-centeredness, humility, and willingness to serve others through servant leadership.
- List the traits you want to embody as a leader. With the qualities you admire in hand, it’s time to select which ones you want to have as a leader. You don’t have to adopt all the traits you listed. Some may be inherent to you, while others may require extra practice. Just because you feel you come up short on some leadership qualities doesn’t mean they’re beyond reach. By writing everything down, you can begin to embody these traits and progress in your leadership development.
2. Make a Book List for Leadership Development
One added step in the beginning process of leadership development is to create a list of books about leadership. This prevents the Peter Principle from occurring and creating incompetent leaders. These leadership books can be in-depth or casual, but all should teach you something new about becoming a leader. Even better, some of the leaders you listed will likely have written a book about their journey and what they learned along the way. Here’s an example of a book list that can help in your leadership development:
- Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
- Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
- The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently by Tony Dungy
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John C. Maxwell
- How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Conscious Leadership: Elevating Humanity Through Business by John Mackey, Steve McIntosh, and Carter Phipps
3. Practice Disciplined Leadership Development
Leadership development requires daily discipline built upon helpful habits. As James Clear notes in his book Atomic Habits, developing good habits is key to reaching your goals. So if your goal is to become a leader, you need to adopt daily practices dedicated to achieving your goals.
These habits eventually make up a system you can live by during your leadership development. Clear writes about this when he says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” This means putting the right system in place is the difference between your leadership development becoming successful or not.
How to practice disciplined leadership development:
- Teach the principles you want to live by. One of the easiest ways to remember something is to teach it. The same holds true with leadership development. If you teach the principles most important to becoming a leader, you’ll retain that information. Go back to the book list you created and go out of your way to teach what you learn from them. This might be to your team, family, or friends. If you read with the intent to teach, you’ll take notes, create a lesson plan, and learn these principles inside and out.
- Surround yourself with people you want to be around. You learn from those you’re around. Make sure you surround yourself with people who will teach you sound principles and values. If you want to further your leadership development, spend time around people who are great leaders.
- Join a mastermind group. Some of the most influential leaders in history, including Thomas Edison and Walt Disney, were part of a mastermind group. Look for one that will help in your leadership development. Being around others with admirable leadership qualities only benefits you.
- Delete unhelpful social media profiles. You are what you consume. If a social media profile is dragging you down or filling your life with toxicity, delete it. You shouldn’t have to wallow in the muck. Raise yourself out of it and embrace more positive surroundings. Doing so will only help as you progress in your leadership development.
- Don’t ignore the spiritual. Leadership development is a spiritual endeavor as well. Take the time each day to show gratitude. Read materials that bolster your spiritual growth. Spend time in prayer. These acts will help as you transform into a leader.
Rewrite What It Means to Be a Leader
There are simply too many mediocre professionals that hold leadership positions. Even if they go through a leadership development program or receive an executive education, they can still fall short. Many may think they have what it takes to be a leader, but leadership doesn’t always happen naturally. It takes consistent effort and grit to become a true leader.
The fact is: We need more leaders. Some may try to make up for their shortcomings by bossing people around, but that isn’t what leadership is about. As Sheryl Sandberg notes, “Leadership is not bullying and leadership is not aggression. Leadership is the expectation that you can use your voice for good. That you can make the world a better place.” Any leadership training and development you go through must keep that in mind.
James Clear writes in Atomic Habits that if people dedicate themselves to just being one percent better each day, they will soon become a different, better person. Your leadership training and development can follow the same path.
Dedicate yourself to improving your leadership skills a little bit every day. Show grit and determination in every aspect of your leadership development. In time, you will become much like the leaders you already admire.
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