On Becoming a Leader—The Value Proposition

“Behavior is the proxy measure for an individual’s values,” I note in my book, The Road to Self-Leadership Development: Busting Out of Your Comfort Zone, (Emerald Group Publishing, 2015). If we deem particular behaviors as evidence of a leader or someone with leadership potential, that person must be exhibiting the requisite “leader” values. Values represent an individual’s beliefs in something. Beliefs help individuals identify acceptable options, select an option (make a decision), and implement the option.

Behavior is guided by an individual’s code of conduct. This code represents the individual’s effort to organize his or her values systematically to guide his or her behavior and actions. An individual’s code of conduct evolves over time, more as a consequence of day-to-day life; few individuals are pro-active in designing their personal code of conduct. Leaders and those aspiring to become leaders are more likely to proactively develop their code of conduct.

The code functions as an individual’s personal navigation system. The navigation system is instrumental in influencing all of the actions an individual pursues throughout his or her life. A leader’s navigation system develops through proactive initiatives and reactively to situations the individual experiences. Consider proactive and reactive as two ends of a continuum. Leaders and those who aspire to be leaders fall on the proactive side of the continuum. A code of conduct and leadership development represents two sides of the same coin. Individuals seeking to become leaders learn they can and must exert control over the leadership development process. This insight enables the individual to influence his or her personal leadership development process.

The first step of any leadership development process is to focus on creating a suitable code of conduct that provides the foundation for all future leadership development training initiatives and leader actions. During this initial step, the individual identifies the “leader” values. I use the plural because leaders demonstrate a variety of values encapsulated in their personal code of conduct. The individual might already possess some of these values, but the values require additional development to strengthen the individual’s code. Other relevant values need to be acquired.

Setting SMART Goals

The next logical step an individual or organization needs to consider in developing a code during the process of designing a leadership development training program is to identify the behaviors linked to specific “leader” values. After this step, the individual needs to identify situations that require these behaviors. For example, we often associate concern for subordinates with successful leaders. An individual can practice concern for others by initiating active assistance with co-workers, superiors, and subordinates. Another example is focus. Individuals can set goals for themselves. The best type of goals is SMART goals (i.e., Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Limited). SMART goals aid the individual in being realistic, assess progress, feel good if successful, and create a sense of urgency that prioritizes the importance and necessity to stay focused.

The creation of a leadership development training program represents a systematic approach—systematic in that the individual creates a process to follow. The end point of the process is a SMART goal to achieve. Standardizing change via the creation of a process to follow represents the individual’s self-directed initiatives for change management—only the change involves shaping the individual’s code of conduct. We can think of the process as a roadmap with the SMART goal(s) the destination.

The Timeline Method

A useful technique for creating a process is the “Timeline Method.” A timeline is a planning method. Starting from the endpoint (re-call that a SMART goal is time-limited) and working backward to the present moment; between the starting point and the endpoint the individual creates milestones that represent specific ends/time limits. The individual now has a process to follow.

The reason values are not the primary focus of the leadership development process is because values are intangible tangibles. The individual focuses on an action to accomplish, and that action is associated with behaviors associated with specific value(s). For example, former Gillette CEO James Kilts wanted Gillette managers to acquire the value of cost reduction. He created a two-stage process to follow. Stage one represented the goal of zero cost increases. After ensuring that this value became the norm, the second stage involved acquiring the value of cost reduction. Achieving this value led to greater profits, providing additional resources to support product development and marketing efforts. Kilts was insightful enough to realize that his role was to set the expectations (What to do) and let individual managers design the process (How to do it) to accomplish the end. SMART goals were the endpoints, and rewards kept individuals motivated until they learned the benefits of cost containment and thereby the value, cost control.

A mentor or coach can help an individual stay focused during the training process. Either represents an external “other” who provide another pair of eyes to offer insights to the trainee. Mentors and coaches help the individual remain focused. Eventually, the individual achieves a level of self-motivation to lessen his or her reliance on a mentor or coach. Self-motivation is a value proposition, as well!

Mentors serve to provide advice. The trainee is responsible for asking the questions. Coaching is task specific. A coach can focus on a specific skill(s) and knowledge. Knowing the difference between mentoring and coaching is important when creating a leadership development process. Each method represents a different approach to achieve the same end, but the circumstances dictate which method to select.

When creating a leadership development training program, the designer needs to emphasize value development because leaders demonstrate “leader values.” Values influence behavior. Actions/programs that require relevant behaviors are paramount when designing the training program. Use of SMART goals is integral to the training process because SMART goals keep the individual focused on acquiring the “leader” values.

Stanley C. Ross, Ph.D., is associate professor of Management at Bridgewater State University, and the author of the book, “The Road to Self-Leadership Development: Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone (Emerald Group Publishing, 2015).

Training Magazine

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