Approaching Professional Development at the C-Suite Level
Achieving C-suite rank in your career may mean you’re at the top of your game—it doesn’t mean the game ends there. As TechNet CEO Rey Ramsey said, “Leadership is a journey, not a destination.” Highly effective leaders should always strive to continue to learn, improve, and grow.
Being responsible for the direction and growth of an organization is a major undertaking, and as a leader, the culture of the company is set by you. Aiming for personal excellence and professional development can inspire employees to do the same—yielding further developed talent and a greater outcome for your company's performance. In this article, I'll review some of the ways that I stay engaged with personal growth and pushing myself to new heights.
Self-awareness is an integral characteristic of every effective leader, and it can be continuously strengthened and honed. Having an elevated awareness of your behavior and how others interpret it is a must for leadership, as you should try to leverage your productive behaviors and learn to recognize blind spots.
A comprehensive leadership assessment is an ideal tool for helping C-suite leaders better understand themselves. It can pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, providing the opportunity to make the most of your talents and identify the areas for growth. A leadership assessment can also uncover similarities and differences among leaders and their teams, allowing leaders to more effectively connect, communicate, and lead.
Feedback is another tool for generating self-awareness, and leaders should seek it out as often as possible. The feedback can come from superiors, trusted colleagues, and direct reports. Regular feedback, including through a 360° survey, can help you keep a running tab on how your behaviors are perceived by others, allowing you to make adjustments as needed to produce the results you desire.
Taking time at the end of each day for self-reflection is another way to deepen self-awareness. Keeping a journal of your emotional reactions and behavior provides ongoing insight. Consider answering a series of questions, such as:
- What did I learn today?
- What did I most enjoy?
- What was the biggest challenge?
- Who did I help? Who helped me?
- What would I have done differently if given the chance?
It may seem like there's too little time to spend reflecting, but a quiet moment alone while commuting or at home can give you a chance to think critically about the day's successes and what you'll tackle tomorrow.
Personal Leadership Philosophy
Your leadership behaviors and actions are kept consistent and effective if you’re working from a personal leadership philosophy. Your leadership philosophy should contain a set of values, principles, and beliefs you use to guide your choices, decisions, and behavior. It’s your personal perspective on what constitutes exceptional leadership, and it plays a role in how you react to situations and people while providing a firm foundation from which to lead.
Answering a number of questions can help you develop your personal leadership philosophy:
- What’s your personal definition of leadership?
- What leaders do you admire, and why?
- What main leadership lessons would you pass on to others?
- What are your values? What is your purpose? What are your beliefs?
- What beliefs do you use to guide your leadership?
- What type of leader do you want to be? What leader are you today? How can you close the gap between the two?
Spend ample time developing your personal leadership philosophy, then review it frequently as new life experiences inform your vision. It's not possible to disconnect your personal life goals with your leadership philosophy—you're one person that exists in both work and home life, so let your deep-seated values guide your leadership path.
While it's important to trust your gut as a leader, knee-jerk responses or impulsively reacting to situations can be damaging when made at the top level of a company. Self-regulation is vital as a means of controlling impulses and learning how to analyze situations before taking action.
You can strengthen self-regulation by analyzing your actions after you’ve made an important move or decision. Analyzing your choices after the fact helps you discover what just happened and why, providing insight that can help prevent impulsive reactions going forward. Another tactic is to develop the habit of delaying responses until after you’ve had time to think over a situation.
You don't have to be alone when making decisions, either. Often departments will appreciate a democratic approach if you empower them to weigh the options and either choose a solution on their own or give feedback on the decisions you make.
People skills are also high on the list of traits that can be continuously improved. Your team members and colleagues need to feel comfortable coming to you with any problems they may have, not hesitant, intimidated, or fearful of your reaction. Any solid leadership development plan places a heavy emphasis on interpersonal skills, as leaders cannot successfully lead unless they can effectively communicate with and relate to others.
Showing respect for those around you is a key ingredient for interpersonal skills. This can involve taking the time to ask for opinions from your colleagues and listening carefully to each person’s point of view. Smaller gestures can also bolster interpersonal skills, such as praising someone for exceptional work or remembering the name of someone you’ve recently met.
Again, a 360° survey or anonymous feedback survey can give you insights into areas you may overlook. Working with an executive coach who will share candid feedback can hone your soft skills.
Learning from Others
Being up-to-date on the latest industry skills and knowledge is another way to continue to evolve as a leader. Periodically reviewing your skills and knowledge can help ensure both are at suitable levels for someone in your position. Some industries, like technology, may require frequent assessments to ensure you remain on the cutting edge.
Make a list of specific areas you’d like to improve, then find ways to fuel that progress. Always try to learn from the people around you, whether it's knowledge specialists within your organization or thought leaders in the industry. Conferences and professional associations are for more than listening to speakers and representing your brand—they can be a great way to connect with other executives who face the same challenges. The more you learn from others, the more well-rounded you can become as a leader and a person.
Personal Leadership Development Plan
While reflecting on and determining how you can improve is good, putting it in writing is even better. Write out a personal leadership development plan that outlines actionable goals you’d like to achieve as you grow as a leader. The plan doesn’t need to be long, but it should be comprehensive and thoughtful.
Sharing your personal leadership development plan with someone else (such as an executive coach) can bring the added benefit of having someone who will hold you accountable for the plan’s follow-through.
Whether you are new to the C-suite or have been at the company’s helm for years, there is always opportunity for learning and improvement for everyone. Organizations look to their leaders to inspire them, direct them, and challenge them. Set an example for excellence with your company's talent by a willingness to be vulnerable and admit that you can improve as a leader. You've achieved your C-suite status through hard work and expertise... if you keep learning and pushing yourself, you and your company can achieve even more.
Reaching Further: Birkman behavioral assessment is a helpful tool for several of the goals listed above, particularly working on self-regulating and developing interpersonal skills. Executive coaches frequently use Birkman to help clients realize their blind spots and recognize their greatest strengths as a leader.