When you take on a new leadership role, the focus is often on immediate concerns: how to build relationships with your colleagues and direct reports, what to do in your first 90 days, and more. But in addition to these important tactical issues, there’s also a strategic question that frequently gets overlooked: what kind of leader do you want to be?
As I frequently observe in my corporate executive coaching and as I discuss in my “Launch into Leadership” program, it’s essential for leaders to develop a vision not just around their team results, but also around their own personal development goals. If you’ve recently started a new leadership position – or would like to step back and re-energize your current role – you can ask yourself three key questions.
First, who were the leaders who inspired you? In the moment, we sometimes forget that there are many different choices about how to be as a leader. It’s easy to lean into our natural tendencies, such as being aggressive, or conciliatory, or always stretched too thin – or any other patterns that have become invisible to us over time and feel like “just the way things are.”
Instead, though, you can begin to remind yourself of the options by thinking about the leaders who meant something to you in the past. It could be previous bosses, but you can go even further back, to coaches, teachers, university professors, and more. What were they like? What did they do? Why did you find them helpful or inspiring? Reminding yourself of these leaders – all of whom had a unique approach – helps you think about how you might incorporate some of their best traits into your own leadership style, as well.
Second, what do you want to accomplish over the next few months and years? Every leader is encouraged to craft a vision, but too often, it’s focused solely on corporate results: What will your team have accomplished in the next quarter, or by next year? How much will you increase profits? That’s a great start, but it’s also useful to set goals for your own personal growth. What do you want to learn and practice?
It could be technical skills like a new computer language or deepening your understanding of AI, or perhaps sharpening your management abilities in areas like delegation, interpersonal communication, or project management. Identifying and tracking your personal growth helps you maintain a sense of purpose and momentum, even when corporate initiatives may be stalled, and ensures that you’re keeping your skills up to date, regardless of overall market conditions.
Third and finally, who do you want to become as a leader? As time passes and exigencies mount, some professionals find that they’ve deviated sharply from their initial vision for themselves. The New York Times interviewed celebrity chef April Bloomfield last year, following charges that she’d allowed a climate of alleged sexual harassment and verbal abuse at the hands of her business partner to persist. As the Times noted, “In her interview, Ms. Bloomfield broke down in tears once: when she acknowledged the distance between the leader she had hoped to be and the leader she became.”
There are always pressures on us as leaders – to turn a profit, cut costs, or keep the output flowing, whether it’s widgets or software or dinner entrees. But we can’t let that become an excuse to focus myopically and ignore conditions around us, or how we’re treating other people. It’s essential, as Bloomfield learned too late, to periodically interrogate ourselves and ask: who do I want to be as a leader, and how am I measuring up right now?
By understanding which leaders have inspired you, what you’d most like to accomplish, and who you want to be as a leader, you can create a powerful vision to help guide you. Hitting your numbers and accomplishing corporate priorities can be meaningful and gratifying. But what’s even better, over time, is working hard to become the kind of person and leader you’re proud to be.
Dorie Clark is a keynote speaker and marketing strategy consultant who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You, and Stand Out, which was named the #1 leadership book of the year by Inc. magazine. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, the New York Times described her as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” You can download her Stand Out self-assessment workbook.