An edtech career coach provides thoughtful guidance.
GUEST COLUMN | by Collin Earnst
Each January, millions of people set New Year’s resolutions, with “diet and exercise” being the perennial favorite atop the list goals. While many enter the new year determined to improve themselves physically, we seldom see the same widespread enthusiasm when it comes to improving professionally. After all, our job satisfaction can greatly impact our physical and emotional health.
It’s easy to focus on the “what” we do in our job, yet never step back to examine “who” we are becoming as leaders. For those aspiring to advance within their organization, perhaps it’s time to focus on the professional breakthroughs you want to achieve this year.
‘It’s easy to focus on the “what” we do in our job, yet never step back to examine “who” we are becoming as leaders.’
Companies typically rely on the “annual performance review” process to serve this purpose, but in many cases, these reviews end up being rushed, half-hearted or simply non-existent. Equally concerning, the path to the executive suite isn’t as clear as one might think. A recent survey by the Ed-tech Leadership Collective showed that 74% of middle-managers were confident they could step-up and become a member of the executive team. However, only 18% of C-level executives felt confident that their middle-managers were ready for a seat at the executive table. This disparity suggests that aspiring leaders should partner with their managers on a more structured and rigorous leadership growth plan to address this confidence gap.
More Than a List: A Leadership Growth Plan
What is a “leadership growth plan” and where do aspiring leaders begin? It’s more than just a list of skills to acquire or a checklist of accomplishments. A leadership growth plan entails behavioral competencies, leadership capabilities, as well as the cultivation of professional relationships with coworkers. As you begin this work, here are five success factors to consider:
Internalize the company priorities and goals – Too often, middle managers—and even executive leaders—don’t understand their company’s strategic priorities and goals. As leaders, our ability to make critical business decisions, lead cross-functionally, overcome obstacles, and thrive in situations of ambiguity depends heavily on strategic clarity. As you plan your work and identify initiatives you hope to lead, be sure you’re fully aligned with your C-suite regarding company priorities and goals. This will help ensure your efforts have the greatest impact on company success and on your career trajectory.
Identify leadership capabilities to improve – According to the Ed-tech Leadership Collective survey, C-level executives identified three capabilities as the most crucial for emerging leaders and high-potential employees: Delegation and empowering team members; situational analysis and decision-making; and managing priorities and metric-based goals. In addition to these capabilities, some middle managers may need to strengthen their skills and knowledge within their functional area, while executives and department heads may need to strengthen their cross-functional operating abilities. Collaborate with your manager to identify the specific skills necessary for your advancement.
Cultivate key relationships – Deepening (or repairing) relationships helps foster stronger collaboration. Think about your colleagues–up, down and across–and identify where you need to invest more energy. Additionally, examine how you can enhance your own communication skills and your openness to critical feedback. Establishing trust and vulnerability allows colleagues to point out your blindspots and help you see things differently—either helping you avoid costly mistakes or providing reassurance that you’re on the right path.
Establish measurable goals and accountability – Be thoughtful, specific and metrics-driven about your professional growth expectations, just like you would for your company objectives. Document your leadership growth plan, target the areas of improvement and the steps required to hone those skills. Set milestones and indicators of success. Review your progress on a monthly basis with your manager and consider sharing your leadership growth plan with a few colleagues—known as “accountability partners”—who can provide candid feedback regarding your progress.
Identify the right support structure – Your professional growth is not a solo endeavor. Each aspect of your leadership growth plan requires ongoing feedback and partnership with colleagues who can hold you accountable. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have colleagues and managers who were active partners in my development. In other cases, I’ve found the best way to achieve these outcomes is to work with an executive coach or with a professional peer group. Finding an outside mentor or peer group can be transformative, offering the commitment and fresh perspective to keep you aligned on your business objectives as well as your evolution as a leader.
Here’s to Achieving Your Professional Goals!
While many New Year’s resolutions are just short-term attempts at self-improvement, it’s my hope that establishing a leadership growth plan provides you with the structure and rigor necessary to achieve the sustainable progress towards achieving your professional goals in 2023.
Collin Earnst is managing partner of the Ed-tech Leadership Collective, an organization focused on helping high-potential employees achieve the professional breakthroughs necessary for businesses to succeed. The Collective provides executive coaching as well as professional peer groups designed specifically for high-potential ed-tech employees at key points in their career.