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Leadership Development: 4 Steps for Getting Started

How to develop your own leadership capacity.

One thing is true: Leadership is hard work. And developing as a leader requires you to work hard. Here are four steps for beginning your leadership development journey.

1. Motivation. Why do you want to lead in the first place? There are a number of reasons that people seek out positions of leadership. A first step is considering what is motivating you. Research by Chan and Drasgow has identified three main motivations to lead:

  • a. Affective identity is that you enjoy being in a leadership position—leading simply because you like being the leader.
  • b. Calculative-non-calculative is a motivation to lead based on the costs and benefits of being in the leadership position. Many people seek out positions of leadership because they seek out power, or perhaps the compensation associated with being in a top-level leadership position.
  • c. Social-normative motivation is feeling obligated to lead. Other people may turn to you and express faith in your ability to lead, or pressure you to be in charge. You might also seek out leadership positions because you want to affect change. These are all indicators of social-normative motivation to lead.

A second aspect of motivation as you begin your leadership development journey involves the motivation to develop. Do you truly want to become a better leader? Are you willing to do the hard work required to develop. All too often, people don’t develop into better leaders simply because of lack of motivation. “I’m good enough already.”

2. Self-Awareness. Understanding your leadership strengths, and particularly your limitations, is essential if you want to improve your leadership capacity. The very best leaders know that they have areas of weakness and they strive to improve. This is exactly why research suggests that the very best leaders possess humility. It is humility that spurs them to become even better.

How can you increase self-awareness? Reflect on what you have done well in leadership positions, and when you have fallen short. There are also a number of assessments that can assess your current leadership style and behaviors. For example, transformational leadership is one theory of exemplary leadership, and you can go here to assess your transformational leadership capacity.

3. Have a Plan. Be purposeful in your leadership development efforts. What do you intend to do? Take classes toward a certificate? Attend a training program or workshop? Or, improve leadership on your own? In any case, set aside the time to develop and commit to it. If you are developing on your own, make sure to develop a schedule stick to it.

4. Get Feedback. The only way to know if leadership development is taking place is by assessing the gains. Ask for feedback from trusted colleagues, or use some objective assessment instrument that will measure improvement. A good strategy is to develop as a leader with a “development buddy”—someone who you know and trust who is also interested in developing as a leader, and who will give you honest feedback (and vice versa).

Remember, the very best leaders take their personal leadership development seriously and invest time and energy into becoming better at it.

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Chan, K.Y., & Drasgow, F. (2001). Toward a theory of individual differences and leadership: Understanding motivation to lead. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 481-498.

Day, D.V. (2000). Leadership development: A review in context. The Leadership Quarterly, 11, 581-613.

Riggio, R.E. (2020). Daily Leadership Development: 365 Steps to Becoming a Better Leader. Barnes & Noble Press.

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