Skip links

Creating a leadership development plan that takes you to the top

Management isn’t something you just decide to do. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say, and Caesar’s leadership skills certainly weren’t either!

Instead, the key to doing a leadership title justice is a well-thought-out plan. 

Your leadership development plan lays out the necessary steps you’ll need to take in becoming a better leader. It covers the skills you need to develop, the challenges you need to overcome, and the responsibilities you see in your future.

What’s not to love, right? So how do you get started?

When is the right time for a leadership development plan?

Is there ever the perfect time to do anything? Even if you’re not in a leadership position right now, having a plan will help you show initiative, enthusiasm and leadership potential!

However, there are a few situations where it really makes sense to focus on that outline to the top table. If you’re just stepping into your first management role or switching to a new team, now is a great moment. When you feel your aspirations to climb the company ladder intensifying or just want to get a sense of what the future might hold in a management role, it’s time to write your leadership development plan.

And what about those moments where new sets of challenges present themselves? Your team might lose a few members, and you’re suddenly managing a set of stretched people and resources. If you’ve not encountered that situation before, you’ll need a new set of tools to keep people on board!

Why are leadership development plans important — what benefits do they deliver?

Leadership development plans can: 

  • Help shape a highly motivational and goal-driven career strategy.
  • Make even the biggest of goals feel attainable.
  • Give you the chance to discover what you truly want from your career.
  • Highlight the gaps in your skill bank and experiences.
  • Unlock a more impressive, aspirational, and exciting career path.
  • Encourage you to pursue new learning opportunities.
  • Bring clarity to your professional future.
  • Keep you focused on professional and personal improvement. 
  • Empower you to develop a new skillset and thrive in any role.
  • Increase your impact in personal and professional relationships.

How to write a leadership development plan of your own

Everyone’s leadership development journey will be different, so how do you write a plan that ticks all of your boxes?

Build your blueprint – write down your primary career goals for the next few years. This could include learning a new skill, reaching a new position, or building trust within your team. It will act as your first draft of the plan and give you something to aim for as you build out the other elements.

Pinpoint your management style – learn about different leadership styles, such as autocratic, pacesetting, democratic, transformational, and laissez-faire, and decide which would best suit your specific context. Keep referring back to these works and understand how they can be applied in different situations – there’s no pressure to squeeze yourself into one box. Instead, think of your leadership style as a big bag of tricks!

Identify the pivotal leadership competencies – specify the leadership skills and competencies that your current or future role will require. That might mean conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, industry expertise, or courage. Consider any professional qualifications that you will need to gain, maintain or might help your credibility.

Take note of successful qualities – think about what being a ‘great leader’ means to you. What traits would you like to see in yourself in one, three and five years? And what about all the great leaders you’ve encountered along the way? What traits did they have, and what can you learn from them?

Seek 360-degree feedback – honesty is the best policy, and you can’t always be too objective about your own performance and talents. Whether that’s going easy on yourself or being a bit too harsh! So, ask your colleagues and manager for their assessment of your skills, strengths, and weaknesses. It would be helpful to conduct a self-assessment too.

Edit the draft – Using the information that you’ve gathered, evolve your first draft of the plan. Stick to the ‘SMART’ goals layout (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely) as this will make your vision achievable and realistic.

Expert advice for new and developing managers

When you work in a high-growth business, you may feel pressure to develop as a manager at the speed of light. 

Fear not! These insights from inspiring leadership voices may just give you the boost and reassurance you need to stick the brakes on and grow your own way.

You can’t make people do things” is an essential truth of leadership — and one that many developing managers overlook. It’s so true that most people need the right environment and encouragement, not someone breathing down their neck.

See that your leadership development plan focuses more on how you can influence your teams with gentle, motivating nudges.

Tara Larson makes a great point, managers give us the trust, space and guidance to do great work – but they don’t teach us to suck eggs! And that means you shouldn’t be stepping on eggshells when opportunities to become a teacher emerge.

Micromanaging is a totally unsustainable approach — for you and your team. And to make sure you’re not falling into that trap, make feedback part of your 360-degree review. Give them prompts to rate your management style and core leadership competencies.

Speaking of 360-degree feedback, does your leadership development plan challenge you to manage up? As Fareed Mosavat points out, it comes back to how well you can align with those above you in the hierarchy.

Leaders from Lyft, GoPay, Reforge, and CreditKarma discuss the importance — and difficulty — of managing up in detail in this article, but the crux of their advice is this: be empathetic and align your actions with company goals.

Learning to manage up is crucial if you want your leadership journey to take you all the way to the C-Suite.

Are we really all ‘faking it ‘til we make it’? If your leadership development plan is up to scratch, you really shouldn’t be! Who are your management mentors? Seek them out, observe their leadership behaviour, and learn from what they do.

This is a fantastic way to put fundamental leadership skills — empathy, listening and following, critical thinking — into practice from day one.

Need some leadership support along the way?

Batman and Robin, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley – every great leader has a sidekick. We’d love to be yours!

Our all-in-one learning platform gives you all the tools to create brilliant leadership development plans in your business! In fact, it’s not just leaders – we’ll empower you to provide development pathways for everyone in your team. And we’d love to show you how!

Let us lead you on a tour of HowNow and book yourself in for a demo today!