For young leaders, there’s something deceptive about seeing success. The best leaders in the world—those at the highest level of their organization or industry, those who are household names—are usually only visible after their success. You never see their journey, what it took to get to the top. You never see the painful bruises they received along the way. It’s deceptive because every leader has a development journey. Every. Single. One.
Even the very best leaders are not born full of character, capabilities, conviction, and courage. These attributes are formed slowly over time. Mature leaders had to learn and grow; they had to succeed and fail; they had to take one step after another until they got where they are today.
Are you where you want to be? Or do you have a way to go on your journey of leadership development? Don’t be deceived; everyone is on this journey whether they know it or not. The good news is that no matter what field you’re in, there are definite stages to development. In other words, there’s a well-worn path to the journey. What is it? Here are the 5 stages of leadership development:
I like to think of the Discovering stage as what happens in your 20’s. You get out on your own, go to college, meet new people, and experience a lot of new things. It’s here that you start to find out what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, and how to pay your bills. This stage is mostly about trying new things and learning from your experience. Don’t worry if you fail. In fact, fail as fast as you can and learn as much as you can in the process. I like to write down lessons I’m learning in the Notes app on my phone (so I don’t waste the pain of a lesson learned!!). Then move on and try something else. Try, learn, adapt, and grow. And discover what it means to be a leader and what kind of leader you want to be.
The Maturing stage is what happens in your 30’s. You’re still learning, but you’re also applying what you’ve learned along the way. The lessons you’ve learned start to inform your intuition. This is where wisdom starts to develop. You don’t make as many mistakes, and you know yourself better than you used to. You can see your strengths and weaknesses more clearly. People start to seek your input in the areas of your strengths. You have growing confidence, but you might still have limited experience with specific vital skills. Be patient, keep learning, and keep improving. And take the time to mature into the best leader you can be.
The Producing stage is what happens in your 40’s. You no longer have to second-guess what to do as a leader. You know yourself, your values, strengths, style—and you know the resources of your team. You don’t have to ask permission; you can just get to the work of leading! You generally have more resources than you had in your 20’s and 30’s and you have more energy than you’ll have in your 50’s and 60’s. You have more freedom, and you might just start having fun! Apply your hard-earned wisdom. Be disciplined in your execution. Use your influence to help people move from where they are to somewhere better. And watch what you produce as the leader you are.
The Perfecting stage is what happens in your 50’s. Even a highly productive leader can get better. This is what happens when you combine skill, experience, opportunity, and resources over time. Your leadership abilities are now wholly intuitive. You can now do more with less. No one is perfect, but by this time you can operate at the highest levels of your industry. You are also able to focus more on the needs of your team, designing systems and tools to increase their effectiveness. You can shape the culture around you through your values, words, and action. Embrace a higher level of influence and create culture. And as you perfect your leadership craft, look back to appreciate just how far you’ve come.
The Investing stage is what happens in your 60’s and older. At this stage, success is a healthy succession. You can invest in people throughout your whole leadership development journey and, of course, you wouldn’t be a leader if you didn’t. But at this level, don’t just replace yourself. It’s time to multiply yourself for the next generation intentionally. What would the return on investment be if you took 5-10 years and invested your life into 4-6 younger high performing leaders? God only knows! Possible areas you could help them grow: finances, buildings, negotiation, communication, leadership, health, relationships, faith, etc. Your legacy lives in the lives of the people you invest in who come after you. Invest in people and thank God for the privilege of being able to make an impact in this crazy world.
I used age (20’s, 30’s, etc.) as an analogy which I think is helpful. But the truth is, a development process for a single leadership skill will not take that much time. If you’re learning how to coach a team member, it won’t take your whole life to see improvement for this skill. But you will see that the stages remain the same even when the process is much shorter.
So. Keep taking steps forward. We’re all on a leadership development journey. Keep learning. Keep going. Let’s grow together! What about you? Have you seen the 5 stages of leadership development in your career?