The one competency no leader can go without

I want to introduce you to a concept I rely on over and over in my coaching engagements, and one I’ll be sharing more about in the coming months. I call it the L3 Approach – and it’s rooted in the idea that becoming a Lifelong Learning Leader (L3) will enable you to continue growing and thriving while adapting to changing circumstances around you. The most effective leaders know they can always learn more, and they are intentional about building systems for doing so. Seeking and learning from feedback is a critical part of such a system.

We all need feedback

You might have an idea about how your team sees you, how your impact is perceived and the ways in which you influence the lives of those in your organization. Most likely, that idea is wrong.

No matter how many ways we quantitatively measure our own efficacy and scrutinize our professional interactions, we simply can’t be objective about our own performance. We can’t see the forest for the trees. We need a mechanism for obtaining other perspectives.

We also need a mechanism for absorbing and acting constructively on what we learn. If we can move through whatever emotions feedback sparks and toward the growth it can enable, we will always be honing skills, and we will also model behavior for our teams that will make them better, too. If we can’t learn and grow based on other perspectives, how can we expect our teams to do so?

This is all part of being a Lifelong Learning Leader.

Building your feedback system

Knowing you need to seek and act on feedback is just the beginning. You need to create a system for doing so – and stick to it, so it becomes more habit than aspiration. The best-case scenario is to turn that habit into a reflex and learning into a fundamental instinct. It starts with a few key strategies:

Identify a trusted confidant.

This could be a coach, friend or peer you trust to give you feedback. This should be someone who understands how you work and who you would trust enough to share what you’re working on. In particular, share the ways in which you are trying to grow, and ask this person to help you be accountable for seeking feedback and developing a plan for acting constructively on that feedback.

Explore a 360-degree review.

This kind of assessment uses a framework for seeking feedback from people above, below and beside you in your organizational structure. A 360 assessment will evaluate your performance using a confidential instrument, providing you feedback on the different ways you show up in your organization – as a leader, as a peer and as a subordinate. The findings can be really interesting, but it’s critical to remember that the results represent a slice in time that doesn’t always age well. Three to six months from now, these learnings might not be very accurate. Use them to start addressing feedback. They should almost never be taken as the last word on your performance. And for what it’s worth, they are not meant to serve as performance evaluations in most circumstances.

The way I like to apply 360s is to use them to create a syllabus for leadership. The results will provide you with a set of competencies to enhance. You’ll see where you are succeeding and where you can do more.

Create a professional development plan

Taking a look at those competencies, you can form a professional development plan. Choose a competency to build – this is your growing edge. In addition, choose a competency that is already a strength, one you can continue to build upon. Together, these form the basis of your professional development plan.

For each of the competencies, decide on one or two ways you can move yourself forward. Examples might include taking a course. Reading a book and discussing it with a colleague or journaling about it. Seeking and working with a mentor in that area. Or asking for a “stretch assignment” that requires you to take on a task that forces you to grow in a particular area.

Repeated check-ins with your accountability partner will keep you on task. At the end of the quarter, ask yourself: Am I better? Am I better enough? Do I need to work on something else or keep working on this? Either way, the learning continues.

The L3 model

This is not a one-and-done process. And it’s not just for new leaders. Consider this definition of the L3 model:

Lifelong learning leadership is a commitment to the idea that, no matter what stage of life or career, learning new skills and applying them are part of our personal and professional development. For leaders, this means a commitment to self-reflection, solicitation of and constructive response to feedback, continual self-improvement and a commitment to helping others do the same. This process offers leaders a template for continual growth and improvement, and it gives a framework for putting such learning into action in real time.

There are always competencies to build, and you’ll also want to seek feedback again from time to time in order to develop a new syllabus for your work. You assess, you learn, you apply those learnings, and you assess again. You will never be perfect, and you can always get better at something. If you develop the habit of asking what you can get better at and then creating a structure for doing so, you move into the L3 model with a commitment to continue your growth – and your development as a leader.

How do you seek and apply feedback?

Do you have a formal structure at work, or have you created your own system? I’d love to hear about it!

Last updated November 17, 2020

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