We Need Better Leaders: Own Your Professional Development

“You could go to class to go to be an NFL quarterback, you could have Peyton Manning or Tom Brady teach you lessons. But when you walk onto the field you’ll still be completely unprepared no matter how much schooling you’ve had because it’s dynamic and the time you have to make decisions [sic] much much shorter than you think.” Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz said this in answer to a Business Insider question about the hardest part of being a CEO. Though I don’t have 300-pound linemen squaring up against me every day, I understand his point. I think this sentiment echoes what many people think about the value of leadership training and advice. While it may be true that on-the-job experience is the only way to really learn to be a CEO, it’s also true that preparation can help you tremendously at every level in your career.

I would venture to say the need for leadership training is greater than ever, and that people need to take responsibility for their own professional development earlier in their careers. We cannot afford for them not to in today’s business climate. Here’s why.

There are more opportunities than ever before to assume a leadership role in business. Writing for SmartBlog on Leadership about why we are so obsessed with leadership these days, Naphtali Hoff said, “The ladder is now a stepstool.” Consider these phenomena:

– Most CEOs are first-time CEOs: The chief executive role is so unique that few are prepared for it.

– Increasing numbers of knowledge workers: According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of knowledge workers has more than doubled over the past three decades, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. The consensus is that we are creating newer types of knowledge jobs – defined as people doing “nonroutine cognitive work” in professional, managerial or technical fields – faster than automation is replacing us. This creates a higher need for leaders who understand and can adapt to a rapid pace of change as well as know how to motivate this type of worker.

– Flatter hierarchies: Management systems such as Zappo’s holacracy are eliminating managers altogether, enabling those with specialized knowledge and natural leadership skills to step up regardless of experience or tenure.

– The rise of distributed leaders: An article in Harvard Business Review about strategy execution highlights the importance of “distributed leaders,” who are a natural outgrowth of the knowledge economy and flatter organizational structures. The authors write that “execution lives and dies” with this group, which “includes not only middle managers who run critical businesses and functions but also technical and domain experts who occupy key spots in the informal networks that get things done.”

– Growing numbers of remote teams: Leadership skills are critical to helping groups collaborate well across organizational and geographic boundaries, in support of group and company objectives.

– Advent of the cloud: Technologies such as cloud computing have made the barriers to starting a business much lower, creating more new executives/leaders than ever, if only in title.

Whether they become leaders by title or natural selection, the people who are steering our businesses today need more basic training in leadership skills. It is more important than ever for them to take control of their professional development. That goes for you as well, whether you are an entry-level employee or a seasoned CEO. To that end, I penned an article for Inc. recently about 10 ways to take control of your leadership development and keep learning. From reading and writing more to teaching what you know to taking professional training courses, these are things you can incorporate into your regular routine if not daily, then at least monthly or quarterly.


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