Five Ways to Provide Meaningful Leadership Development
By Jennifer Dodd
El Pomar Foundation’s flagship Fellowship program develops today’s young professionals into tomorrow’s leaders through its distinct, two-pronged approach of hands-on job training and professional development. Roughly 20 percent the two-year experience is dedicated to developing leadership and professional skills through structured and evolving curriculum. If your staff or coworkers are seeking lasting and impactful skills, here are five strategies for creating meaningful leadership and professional development experiences that I’ve prioritized during my time as Director of Leadership Programs:
1. Start with gathering input and feedback to create buy-in. Leadership and professional development opportunities can and should be a tailored, personalized experience. Invite your staff to provide input about topics of interest. In my experience, staff are particularly interested in the topics like career development, résumé building, networking, diversity, equity and inclusion as well as skills-based topics like feedback, time management and managing teams. Taking staff input into consideration creates buy-in and sets all parties up for succes
2. Readings and articles – Subscribe. Listen. Read. There are countless news outlets, podcasts, books and articles to educate you or your staff while adding a fresh, relevant lens to any professional development curriculum. Because the Fellowship program is dedicated to exploring the theoretical framework of leadership, skill-building and nonprofit management education, our favorite resources include:
- The Leadership Challenge by James Kouze and Barry Posner
- Simon Sinek’s TED Talk – How Great Leaders Inspire Action
- Harvard Business Review—particularly the leadership, career planning and managing people topics
- Radical Candor by Kim Scott
- Nonprofit Management: Principles and Practice by Michael Worth
3. Foster mentorship networks. The Fellowship is nearing its 30th year with an alumni network of nearly 300 members spanning the public, private and nonprofit sectors. The alumni also serve as mentors, professional development speakers and potential employers to current Fellows. I know this is especially unique, so if your organization is just beginning to foster mentorship networks, start small. Think of 10 people from diverse backgrounds and careers that are willing to talk about their career and life lessons with employees. These individuals may be affiliated with your organization or could be local, external professionals with a specific expertise. Invite them to a staff meeting or bring them in to speak during lunch. Expanding your employees’ network is crucial to their professional development.
4. Encourage staff to leverage the network. Mentorship and networking are an investment. Flourishing networks require the commitment of time and energy to cultivate and maintain relationships, but the time invested can be valuable at every stage of one’s career. Encourage staff to routinely seek out individuals with more advanced experience than their own to provide guidance, advice and perspective. Practically speaking, this could be a one-on-one coffee meeting once a month or an email exchange every few months.
5. Incorporate psychometric assessments. If your budget allows, investing in psychometric assessments is a helpful professional development resource. Participation in assessments such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Change Style Indicator, Thomas-Kilmann Instrument (TKI) and Leadership Practices Inventory 360 allow staff to gain a greater sense of self-awareness regarding how they make decisions, interact with others and react to conflict and change. It can also provide a common language for professionals to discuss their workplace preferences, provide constructive feedback and to identify blind spots in their own leadership.
The professional development curriculum for the Fellowship has and will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the young professionals who join each year’s cohort. Developing a curriculum that contributes to the professional growth of an employee can seem like a daunting task; however, in my time as the Fellowship Director, I have found that soliciting input, utilizing resources and networks, and investing in specific assessments is a great place to start.
Jennifer directs the Fellowship program and provides strategic leadership to the Internship and Nonprofit Executive Leadership Program. Read more about Jennifer here.