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Leadership Is a Journey: Steps to Your Personal Leader Development

A guide for your personal leader development

Last semester, I had the great fortune to host Rey Ramsey as a speaker in my Foundations of Leadership course. Rey Ramsey is the Chief Executive Officer of TechNet. TechNet is the preeminent bipartisan political network of CEOs and Senior Executives of leading U.S. technology companies. When asked to reflect on his own leadership accomplishments, he said something that my students grabbed onto, and something that I've believed all along, "Leadership is a journey, not a destination." What this means is that every leader, regardless of his or her position or successes, needs to continually work on leadership development.

So, what are the key elements to successfully develop as a leader? Manuel London, in his book, Leadership Development, suggests that there are 3 needed psychological factors: self-insight, self-regulation, and self-identity.

Self-insight. It is impossible to understand the needs and perspectives of followers if you don't first understand yourself. A good leader needs to be aware of his or her typical behavior and how he/she is perceived by others. This is why 360-feedback and executive coaching are such common components of leadership development programs. These methods provide feedback about what you are doing and how it affects others.

Self-regulation. Leaders get into trouble when they engage in "knee-jerk" responding or habitually use the same strategy in different types of situations. Self-regulation is controlling impulses and learning how to analyze situations in order to think about the big picture and long-term results. Self-regulation allows the leader to initiate the correct actions at the right time and in the right situations.

Self-identity. This is the heart of the leadership journey. Leaders need to develop a leadership identity that serves as a positive role model for followers. This includes adhering to a set of ethical values to guide behavior. The development of self-identity is a continuous learning process - a big part of the leadership journey.

So how can you develop as a leader?

- Seek and use feedback, from direct reports, superiors, and trusted colleagues. Use the self-insight gained to focus on your strengths and areas that you want to target for improvement.

- How about developing self-regulation? Leadership expert, Bruce Avolio, suggests using a form of the military's "After Action Review," (AAR) after making a key move or decision. In the AAR you analyze what just happened and why. Use this information to break out of habitual responses and develop thoughtful and planful approaches to problems.

- Using self-insight, consider who you are and who you want to be as a leader. Develop that positive leader identity. Consider the image you want to convey. Compare your real self to your "ideal self." Striving to be that ideal leader will motivate further development.


Avolio, B.J. (2005). Leadership development in balance: Made/born. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

London, M. (2002). Leadership development: Paths to self-insight and professional growth. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

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