A Guide to Professional Development for Leaders

As a business leader, you are no stranger to leading teams and making quick decisions that impact your organization. With such responsibility on your shoulders, investing in professional development could be the key to excelling further at work and surpassing the high expectations set for you. Picking up new skills and learning to be innovative, empathetic, and adaptable could help you and your business grow.

With rapid development in newer technologies and the growth of modern leadership practices, you may begin to feel like your methods are becoming outdated. By learning new competencies, you can keep up with contemporary leadership skills that focus on empathy and understanding in order to lead your team confidently.

With professional development, you will be better equipped to lead your teams to achieve business goals. After all, learning is the only way to constantly grow. Through investing in your future, you can take your business to new heights by meeting industry standards, employing innovative skills, and constantly seeking to do better.

In this article, we’ll explore why you should take professional development seriously and how it can enhance your leadership skills.  

Why is professional development important in a leadership role?

Professional development enables leaders—like you—to sharpen your skills, pick up new competencies, and improve your ability to take your team to new heights.

With professional development, you can advance your career quicker and make yourself more attractive as a leader.  At the same time, when you pursue professional development, the entire organization benefits from your newfound expertise. As you grow, so does your business.

For example, professional development may help you improve your communication and time management skills. By communicating with your team more effectively, you will be able to schedule work and manage your team’s time better, improving overall output.  

Some other benefits of leadership and professional development include improved:

  • Leadership strategies
  • Managerial skills
  • Conflict-resolution
  • Decision making
  • Asset management

Top strategies for leadership development

What can you do as a leader to undertake professional development? A lot!

Read on to discover the best strategies to promote leadership development.

Enhance your leadership skills

Certain skills are expected of a leader. From effective communication to fast problem-solving, leaders must be at the top of their game when managing a team.

Focus on these key areas if you’re looking to develop your leadership skills:

  • Problem-solving. Things don’t always go as planned. This means problems are part of every job. As a leader, you need to be able to assess the issue, analyze your resources, and come up with the most effective solution to the problem. Remember to maintain your cool, and don’t be afraid to use creative means to solve crises.
  • Communication. You’re unlikely to win your team’s respect by bossing them around. Instead, try to communicate with patience, empathy, and transparency. At the same time, set clear boundaries and expectations, so your team knows how to frame their interactions with you. Make sure to provide quick and considerate feedback without disrespecting anyone.
  • Delegation. One of a leader’s most important jobs is to delegate tasks to team members. A successful leader can identify the core strengths of individuals and assign work to them accordingly. You can improve your role as a delegator by assigning work fairly and equally. Additionally, you can provide your team with the resources they need to perform their jobs better.  
  • Conflict management. Conflict can pop up whenever there’s a difference in opinions or work distribution. Make sure to listen attentively and give each person their say. Offer a swift and precise solution that helps calm the situation. In addition, don’t shy away from holding employees accountable and giving consequences when necessary.
  • Emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to perceive, assess, manage, and express our own emotions, to recognize and validate the emotions of others, and to handle relationships with empathy. In leadership roles, emotional intelligence is vital because a leader’s ability to manage their emotions directly affects the team’s behavior.

Enroll in professional development programs

A great way to undertake professional development is to join a training program, either online or at a university. Several top-notch programs are available to choose from that can help you pick up invaluable skills and industry-related know-how.

Many companies offer leadership development programs where they train employees with the potential to take on management roles to work toward promotions. These programs allow employees to further their education on-site with employees from other departments.

Interacting and sharing with others in similar positions can help spark conversation about best practices and encourage leaders to learn from each other’s experiences.

Some interesting learning and development programs that you could potentially enroll in include:  

Stay current and informed

Staying updated on your industry’s latest trends and news is a must if you want to advance into a leadership role.

Only when you update your professional know-how can you gain expertise and lead your team using the best practices possible. Talking to peers can help you stay in the loop about the latest leadership trends, allowing you to update your leadership style.

You can stay informed about your field in the following ways:

  • Focus on networking. Spending time with people in the same industry as you or occupying leadership roles like you can help you become familiar with new trends and perspectives. For example, an acquaintance might enlighten you on a creative way to deal with conflict at work, which could help you with your team.
  • Join professional organizations. Most professions have organizations that arrange events, seminars, talks, and networking gatherings where members can learn about the latest in their respective industries. Business professionals, for example,  often join their local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club to connect with other business professionals and stay up-to-date.  
  • Attend conferences and events. An excellent way to network and learn best practices is to attend conferences, seminars, talks, and other events where you can hear peers or other leaders speak from experience.
  • Read, listen to, and watch industry-related content. Subscribe to industry-related magazines and journals, so you’re informed about the latest developments in your field. In addition, listen to podcasts, watch videos, and read books that might share invaluable information about how you can be a better leader.

Get the help of a mentor  

Another way leaders can develop leadership skills is by  working with a mentor or coach.

A mentor uses their experience to advise mentees on how to develop their professional skills further. They might recommend learning material, teach new knowledge or key skills, and educate by example.

A coach is an external agent who asks important questions and prompts the learner to use their own experiences to arrive at gainful insights. They help stimulate critical thinking and self-reflection.

You can use your network to seek mentors and coaches who can help you on your learning journey toward greater success as a leader.

Become a mentor

Developing a mentor-mentee relationship with team members can help you be a better leader. When you start mentoring your colleagues, you may approach your work differently.

In addition to setting goals, assigning tasks, and expecting work to be turned in on time, mentorship helps you develop relationships with team members.

You may also start prioritizing and developing skills within your team that could lead them to greater success. You’ll learn to build trust, instill empathy, and give advice to help your team members learn.

You can be a better mentor to your team by:

  • Setting goals that are mutually agreed upon
  • Actively listening
  • Giving advice when your mentee is receptive to it
  • Offering constructive criticism and regular encouragement
  • Sharing your knowledge and skills
  • Supplying helpful resources
  • Guiding your mentees toward their career goals

Work on your soft skills

Succeeding in a leadership role isn’t only about mastering professional skills. Soft skills play an equally important part in shaping your success or failure. This means you need to have enough self-awareness to recognize which areas you need help in.

While you might typically be an excellent communicator, you may not excel at keeping your cool in stressful situations. With self-reflection, you can figure out which soft skills you need to work on.  There are several online courses you could join to learn new soft skills.  

In addition, here are some techniques you can use to develop better soft skills.

  • Self-reflection. Research shows that reflection separates successful leaders from mediocre ones. Spend some time going over your past experiences as a member or leader of a team and consider why a particular interaction elicited a negative reaction from the listener. This way, you can narrow down on personal qualities to improve.
  • Humility. Being able to admit when you are wrong only makes you a stronger leader and might even earn you your team’s respect. A humble attitude will allow you to improve in areas where you make mistakes.
  • Confidence. Alongside humility, you also need confidence in order to identify areas of personal and professional growth. Learning to improve can be a challenge but it need not affect your self-confidence.
  • Ask for feedback. The simplest way to discover areas where you can improve is to ask your peers or mentors for feedback. They’ll likely be able to shine a light on issues you might be oblivious to.
  • Step outside your comfort zone. Difficult or uncomfortable situations  shed more light on our own shortcomings than easy or predictable situations do. Self-knowledge can be priceless if you hope to take your career to the next level by improving your communication and interpersonal skills.

Who can benefit from leadership development?

With highly skilled and empathetic leaders operating a business, everyone benefits. From your employees and customers to your shareholders, leaders who invest in their growth bring benefit to everyone engaged in a business enterprise.

With better leadership skills, managers can even inspire their employees to do better and improve their overall productivity. Effective leaders become visible symbols of a business’s overall success, encouraging their employees to follow them and up their professional skills.

At the same time, successful leaders can transform the face of a business by implementing useful and creative leadership techniques that lead to better results. Good leaders can spot opportunities to add value, suggest ways to problem-solve, and create a more efficient work structure. In effect, leadership development improves a leader’s professional growth while also positively affecting the overall business.  

Invest in your own professional leadership development with help from Upwork

Professional development is a key to the success of any business and the professional success of its leaders. As leadership becomes more effective, the overall efficiency and productivity of the organization will improve.

If you’re a business or leader looking to prioritize professional development, browse through the profiles of dozens of leadership development specialists on Upwork.

If you’re a coach who can guide and educate leaders toward greater growth and success, browse through leadership development jobs on Upwork and see if anything matches your interests.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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A Guide to Professional Development for Leaders
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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