How to Be a Better Leader Without Spending Anything

August 6, 2015

I have the pleasure of working with companies that have significant learning budgets and are willing to spend deep on leadership development activities. Of course not every company has big pockets and certainly individual who want to be better leaders won’t have the money or access to the resources that Fortune 500 companies do.

So I decided to put together a list of leadership development opportunities that you could do by yourself without any need for money!

1. Become a Coach

I’ve think the best way to learn is by teaching others. And what better than killing two birds with one stone than to learn yourself while sharing your knowledge and ideas with someone else?

2. Experiment

After deciding that I would leave the company I was working for and, therefore, be relieved of the possible negative impact of failing I decided to experiment more and do stuff that I’d never done before. And you know what? My performance sky-rocketed and my bosses were never more appreciative than during that period. We did crazy things that we never imagined before and transformed the workplace as a result of it.

3. Development Board

Of course, I recommend you to have a mentor. However even better is to have a number of mentors. You can’t assume that one individual will be able to guide you on all the challenges you’ll face. So why not have a personal development board consisting of a number of mentors with different backgrounds, experiences, capabilities and industries? Here are a few tricks on How to Find a Mentor.

4. Accountability Group

Caroline Ceniza-Levine in one of her Forbes articles suggested leaders to set up an accountability group. A group of trusted colleagues and/or friends you can trust to kick your bum if you don’t implement a specific development action to which you committed. Research has shown that there is a clear process to achieving your goals – communicating your commitments and having other people help you keep them is one big one!

5. Swap with a Colleague

Learning by doing is the mantra. So why not swap with a colleague for a couple of weeks? Agree with your boss that you will lead the procurement shop whilst the procurement head will take over your supply planning role for a couple of weeks. And if you have difficulty convincing your boss, tell him that it has significant organisational benefits: the company will get a fresh pair of eyes to check out what’s happening and hopefully get new ideas on how things can be done differently.

6. Reflect

The power of journaling is well researched and doesn’t cost a dime (it does require some discipline, though, but hey who said that getting better was going to be easy?). As Kate Larsen says: “Written reflections help you to gain perspective on your past and to maximize your future”. So get that journal and start writing!

7. First Time Experiences

‘When was the last time you did something for the first time? First-time Experiences gives you the opportunity to explore, overcome fears, and step into the unknown. They ready you for a future in which change is everything and uncertainty is the name of the game.

8. Live with customers

I’m pretty sure that you visit customers, right? If you do it the same way I did when I was in my previous company these are often ‘staged’ in which the accompanying brand manager or sales rep makes sure you get a cup of coffee and ask a few questions and then thank the customer for the hospitality. Why am I not surprised no specific insights came from these visits? Instead, try spending a whole weekend with a customer from a different ethnicity, income group, family composition and age. I promise you it will change the way you see the world.

9. Have a Point of View of the Future

Too many leaders are still focusing on internal stuff. Ask them questions about:

  • What challenges the industry is facing in the future?
  • What will drive growth for the company?
  • What disruptive innovation could potentially wipe out the company?
  • What are the latest business models with which other companies are experimenting?

and you get often blank stares. Have a point of view! Read, meet and observe and ask yourself how could this possibly affect my company, my job, the skills that I need to succeed. Be ahead. Stay ahead.

10. Volunteer

Some companies have recognized the power of CSR activities in leadership development. So instead of giving money they give their most precious resources to good causes: their time and brains. So why don’t you do the same? Give and you will receive far greater gifts than you would assume imaginable.

I know which of these I still need to do to become a better leader.

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