Before we stand a chance of influencing other people, we must show we can lead ourselves in a positive direction. 360 feedback, self-assessments, and reflection can be excellent channels to seeing ourselves as we are. However, we don’t tap into full value of this increased self-awareness until we act. To guide you in translating goals and feedback into results, I strongly recommend that leaders use an action plan.
What makes a good action plan?
Creating a written action plan is a top factor in real leadership improvement. A word of caution: resist the urge to create the perfect plan! A “good enough” plan that you start now and revisit regularly over the next 6-12 will outperform a beautifully written plan that goes unused.
Three Ingredients of an Actionable Action Plan
1. Start your plan with your “big why.”
This is your vision for the leader you want to be. To become a better leader, what do you see as your one or two most important focus areas? Reflect on what you know about yourself and your tendencies as well as feedback you have handy. Consider both strengths that you can further leverage as well as skill areas in need of improvement.
2. Next, decide which actions will get you closer to your vision of leadership (i.e., your goals).
Don’t feel that you have to tackle everything at once. Separate actions that you can take in the next 30 days from those you can start in a few months. Both short-term and longer-term actions belong on your plan. Feel free to get specific when writing your goals because you want to measure your progress (e.g., “meet with each direct report for a 45-minute one-on-one once a month” is a much more measurable goal than “be a better people manager”.
3. Finally, build motivation and problem solving into your actions.
Answering these questions for each goal will strengthen your commitment to the plan and will increase your likelihood of success.
Goal QuestionWhy It Matters
How will taking this action help you professionally?Writing down why this action matters in your own words will serve as motivation when you are stuck.
How can you lean on your strengths to help you take these actions?Identifying how you will use the personal skills and resources already at your disposal to face a challenge will increase your confidence and willingness to execute the plan.
Who can help you as an unofficial mentor or feedback provider? Having a person who can give you informal feedback to adjust your efforts or who can give you 5 minutes of advice every so often can go a long way.How will you be able to tell if you are making progress?
The old adage “what gets measured gets managed” is true here. Measuring your progress will hold you accountable and motivate you to continue your efforts.
Get Your Manager On-board
Sharing your growth plan with your manager offers you multiple benefits. First, communicating your plan makes it more likely you will follow through. Second, you also can invite your manager’s input, and ask for support or guidance as needed (leaders often underuse this opportunity). Third, you demonstrate that you are committed to learning and are coachable, important indicators of one’s ability to grow within the organization.
Learning + Follow-Through = Results
Find an action plan format that works best for you. Some people prefer a chart, some use a bulleted list, and others like to write paragraphs in a journal. What matters most is that you use your plan on a regular basis. As Jason Selk and Tom Bartow said in their book, Organize Tomorrow Today, “Success is not about being brilliant. It is about being consistent.” Get your actions on paper and take consistent steps towards being a better version of yourself.