Entrepreneur, Author, Professor, Global CEO

June 3, 2015

How to Write an Action Plan for Your Personal Leadership Strategy

To transform an idea into a self-sustaining enterprise, you must possess self-awareness, understand the basics of enterprises, know how to build relationships, how to leverage motivation, and how to lead change. A personal leadership strategy, or PLS, is a plan of action for acquiring and mastering those basic skills. As I wrote in a previous post, you begin by assessing your motivations, traits, and current skills. Then, with your mentor providing advice and support, you write a summary of where you feel you stand as you are about to begin your journey. What really motivates you? What traits are likely to help you or hold you back? On a scale that runs from basic to competent to master to best-in-class, how good are you at the basic skills?

Once you’ve completed those preliminaries – all of them necessarily focused on your past and your present – you’re ready to address your future: the actions you intend to take to acquire, develop, and master the skills required to become a successful entrepreneurial leader (EL). If you find the prospect daunting, try breaking the document down into these manageable parts:

  • Begin with a series of statements that capture your intentions. Obviously, one of those intentions is to grow your company into a value-producing and self-sustaining enterprise. Though that may seem to go without saying, writing it down in bold, unambiguous language elevates it to the status of a pledge to yourself. State your intention to develop as an EL – again, a promise to yourself, the recording of which should strengthen your resolve. Write down your determination to overcome your fears and other obstacles to success, which you have identified earlier in the PLS process. Capturing your intentions is not about market strategy or product development, but about your motivation and your will to succeed.
  • Describe what mitigations you will use to offset the personality traits that are most likely to hold you back. For example, if you are a strong introvert and feel uncomfortable in groups, then join Toastmasters and learn to control those fears. Or if you feel uncomfortable making decisions, something that definitely could hold you back as an EL, then develop a decision-making process. One young entrepreneur I worked with was well aware of her indecisiveness. “When confronted with an important, scary decision,” she wrote in her action plan, “I will ultimately decide by asking myself this question: What are the best and worst things that can happen to me if I make the decision one way, and what are the best and worst things that can happen to me if I make the decision the other way?
  • Write down the key actions you plan to take to cultivate the human resources you already have in place. That includes both your employees and yourself as a leader committed to your own development. This could include listing responsibilities and the people to whom you will delegate them.
  • Specify how you will go about improving in essential skills where you fall short. For example, if leading change is difficult for you, write down precisely how you will seek executive coaching and from what source—a consulting firm, your mentor, or an executive development course. You might also include a deadline by which you will seek out that source.
  • Specify a simple process you will put in place for making sure you update your PLS, including your action plan. As you grow and learn, you may discover some previously hidden motivations. You may find that mitigating your personality traits or developing certain skills has turned out to be more challenging than you thought. Periodically revisiting your PLS will force you to consider what further steps you might take and commit to them.You might, for example, take a day every six months to review your development plans.

There is no right or wrong way to map your development plan. The only requirement is that it be written – a document. Beyond that, you should do it in whatever form you think will persuade you to keep its promises. If bullet points are enough for you, that’s fine. But you might also consider other forms – an essay, for example, or an imagined resume with the future dates by which you will have acquired needed skills.

Or you might write it as if it were a performance review by a neutral third party: “Although Karen is good at motivating others and building relationships, she lacks an understanding of enterprise basics, which she must acquire within the next six months if she expects to succeed. She should enroll in an evening executive program at the local university’s business school.” Seeing yourself as you imagine others might see you could give you the extra psychological nudge you need to make good on your plan.

Maybe your most effective taskmaster is you. If so, try writing your action plan as an autobiography projected into the future. Pick a date by which you want to have mastered a particular skill and write about it as if had already passed: “In the fall of 2015, having finally seen how my perceived arrogance was alienating valuable members of my team, I sought out an executive coach who tutored me in listening skills; I read some of the recent literature about mindfulness, took up mindfulness meditation, and talked candidly with my mentor about his experience with colleagues he had perceived as arrogant. From those activities, I soon developed a more effective way to collaborate with team members without being inauthentic, because I had also learned the root causes of my impatience and excitability.” As someone who expects a lot of himself, you wouldn’t want to re-read those words when the fall of 2015 actually comes around and find that they were false.

The point is to choose whatever form is most likely to make you hold yourself accountable. Ultimately, you should bring to the task of developing yourself the same commitment, engagement, and energy you bring to developing your business idea. Otherwise, both are likely to go unrealized.

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