top of page
  • Writer's pictureJill Hauwiller

Keep Growing: Career Development Mindset for Leaders

Are you a life-long learner? Strong leaders understand that their journey is a continuous one, requiring them to evolve and adapt regardless of career stage. Leaders who prioritize their ongoing development also model the role of learning for their teams and champion a culture of career development that enriches both individuals and the organization as a whole.

Prioritizing Self-Growth

Leaders who continuously seek personal and professional growth set a powerful example for their teams. By actively pursuing learning opportunities, whether technical, leadership or seemingly unrelated to their professional role, leaders who prioritize their own development can bring new skills and ideas to bear, improving team performance and helping employees explore their own development opportunities.

Feedback is the cornerstone of growth. Successful leaders actively solicit insights from peers, subordinates, and superiors; this 360 feedback is the gold standard because leaders can learn from how they are viewed at different levels within their organization. This holistic feedback loop uncovers blind spots and highlights areas ripe for improvement. Processing feedback with an open mind and taking the time to reflect before setting development goals related to what they heard is important for setting development priorities. But, taking action and being accountable and transparent about the feedback they are working on will help leaders make progress the most quickly. Having a peer accountability partner or working with an executive coach can be particularly effective for both processing feedback and setting development priorities.

Most self-aware leaders have a good sense of their strengths and weaknesses. Using this awareness as part of their development plans can take multiple forms. Leaders should continue to invest in their strengths to maintain and build on areas where they stand out. Weaknesses can be addressed through a personal development plan to boost skills, but they can also be addressed by building a strong team in the areas where the leader isn’t as strong. When addressing weaknesses in a development plan, the goal is typically not to become exceptional but to improve so that the weaknesses don’t become limitations.

Leaders who devote time to their learning can be inspirational to their teams – they are embodying that a career can be a journey of self-discovery rather than stasis. It demonstrates that there isn’t a point in a career where people plateau. Lateral growth can be just as valuable as vertical growth and can contribute to shaping a leader’s perspective in new ways. By sharing their growth experiences, leaders create a culture that values and encourages continuous improvement.

Leadership That Fuels Career Development

The most sought-after leaders within organizations are those with a reputation for developing their teams. They are champions of a culture that both enables and prioritizes growth by engaging in regular development conversations, seeking stretch opportunities for their team, and working with their team on development plans.

  • Fostering Development Conversations: Regular one-on-one discussions centered around growth provide employees with a clear path forward. These conversations create an environment of trust, enabling teams to reach their full potential.Detaching performance evaluations from growth discussions fosters openness and reduces anxiety, enabling employees to focus on their goals and aspirations.

  • Seeking Stretch Opportunities: Outstanding leaders actively seek opportunities that push their team members beyond their comfort zones. These challenges foster resilience and skill acquisition, especially when they are aligned with the employee’s career goals.

  • Developing Individualized Plans: Career development is most effective when leaders recognize that employees should be steering their development journeys. Managers serve as navigators, providing guidance and resources where needed. Leaders who view supporting their team’s growth as an incredible privilege, not a burden, will shape a culture where development is a shared mission, rather than an obligatory task.

Organizational Support for Career Development

With the support of their organizations, development minded leaders can help their teams progress even faster and fulfill career goals. Organizations that do this well create a career development ecosystem that includes a variety of activities to help employees explore career paths, develop skills and build strong relationships across the organization. Options for this type of career development support include:

  • Career development fairs, themed months, and events to engage employees in diverse learning experiences. These forums spotlight growth pathways and ignite curiosity.

  • A range of accessible learning opportunities from self-paced modules to on-demand courses via learning management systems or subscription services. Learning becomes self-directed and opt-in, irrespective of roles, rather than a nomination process by leadership or peers.

  • Mentorship programs at all levels foster the exchange of insights, offering invaluable guidance as employees shape their careers. Both traditional and peer mentorship programs offer significant career development benefits.

One of my clients has built an approach to career development that reflects many of these elements. They called it their “Year of Professional Development” but it was so much more than that. The organization took a holistic approach to building culture by focusing on purpose, wellbeing, belonging and achievement. Last year, during their employee development forum, I gave a keynote address that focused on career accelerators and career derailers with an emphasis on emotional intelligence. The organization’s leadership recognized that what builds a healthy culture is an approach that considers the whole person. Career development was a key component of a larger picture. By emphasizing development and focusing on workplace culture, this organization is able to set itself apart in a competitive market for attracting and retaining talent.

For leaders and organizations that value career development, there is no shortage of steps to take to demonstrate that commitment. From leaders prioritizing and modeling their own personal growth, to showcasing career development principles, and cultivating a supportive ecosystem; the behaviors of leaders sets the stage for their continuing growth and the success of their teams and organization, as a whole. By instilling a culture of continuous learning, leaders empower individuals and the organization with a commitment to personal and professional growth.

This article was also published on Medium.

bottom of page