Are you on a leadership journey that fuels and fulfills you? Does it allow you to keep growing and learning? While making a positive impact on the people you lead? And are you making truly meaningful contributions to the organizations that matter to you?
Can you sustain this leadership success for a lifetime?
For many people I coach, the answer to this last question is less clear. They find it gets harder to see the alignment between their personal and professional vision, and the path they’re on, when asked if their efforts are sustainable in the long term.
On top of the ongoing challenges faced at every level of an organization—including economic, interpersonal, and values conflicts—leaders are often faced with the kinds of responsibilities that can lead to feeling burned out over time.
Which can make the process of maintaining a high level of success a burden for many leaders, directly impacting the sustainability of their lifelong career.
For lifetime leadership success, there are five key strategies you’ll want to embrace:
1. BE INTENTIONAL
Be intentional about your leadership journey.
Understanding that your journey will span the length of your lifetime—from junior management to post-retirement mentorship, for example—being intentional about your vision and goals for long-term success is key.
This kind of clarity will give you a solid, well-aligned footing so that your journey stays true to who you are and what you hold dear.
It also ensures that you’re pointing yourself in a direction that lines up with your innate talents and evolving skills.
Being intentional doesn’t require you to plan each step of your career if that approach doesn’t serve you. It simply asks that you focus, with intention, on how you can make the greatest contribution to the people, organizations and endeavours you want to influence with your leadership.
Being intentional includes:
- Being clear about your purpose, and the direction in which you want to point yourself.
- Knowing and respecting your values, as well as your innate talents.
- Knowing what gives you the greatest meaning and satisfaction and putting your focus there.
- Appreciating and growing into your strengths to make the greatest impact.
- Understanding your limitations and how to work with them.
Being intentional about these fundamentals gives you a strong footing on which to make the career choices that serve you best. You will also be able to sustain your leadership impact and contribution throughout your lifetime, for a deeply fulfilling leadership journey.
2. STAY CURRENT
Our world keeps changing, and so must you.
Staying current, in all aspects of your leadership, may be one of the most vital components of a sustainable career.
This includes, of course, keeping your skills up-to-date. However, with our evolving social, economic, political, technological and workforce dynamics, creating a sustainable career is also about being mindful of the context in which you’re leading.
What are the challenges you and your organization are facing? And how is the world around you changing? What does that evolving context mean for you and your impact as a leader?
By being in tune with, and taking cues from your ever-changing environment, you’ll be better able to choose where to focus your attention and your ongoing leadership, as well as your development.
Navigating workforce dynamics, for example, used to be about the effective leadership of multiple generations. Today, workplace differences come in many forms, leading to more challenging and complex leadership requirements.
Your success as a leader will increasingly depend on your ability to engage an evolving workforce—regardless of how they identify or what they represent—and lead in ways that empower their success.
Consider, for example, your leadership expertise as a facilitator in bringing teams together, whether internal or external. Ask yourself:
- How ready are you to lead across divisions, or the organization as a whole?
- Do your skills span boundaries, and equip you to engage with external partners, stakeholders or constituents?
- How would you rate your ability to relate and engage with people from multiple countries, cultures, and gender identities?
- Or how confident are you about supporting and working with a diverse range of workplace abilities and challenges, including the growing awareness of mental health and well-being needs?
While there will naturally be expectations from current and future employers about your skills and your capacity to continue evolving as a leader, be sure to focus on your own interests too. Take stock of what you want to learn and the ways in which you want to continue growing and leading.
The range of leadership situations to which you gain exposure can make a world of difference in expanding your relevance while keeping your skills current.
Whatever the mix of activities you choose, make it a habit. As you do, you’ll be contributing to sustaining your leadership success.
3. CULTIVATE A GROWTH MINDSET
Cultivating a growth mindset throughout your leadership journey is one of the most powerful ways to sustain your lifetime of leadership success.
A growth mindset is grounded in the belief that abilities can be developed. It’s about embracing learning as a continuing part of your career, whether you’re learning from coaching, courses, challenges, adversity, or even failures.
I don’t know who coined this acronym for FAIL, ‘First Attempt is Learning’, but it’s a good one to keep in mind here. It’s also a powerful way forward for leaders wanting to navigate an ever-changing world.
A growth mindset helps you stay open to feedback and constructive criticism, as well as regular self-reflection and assessment. Growth-oriented leaders believe each of these to be valuable inputs for their ongoing development.
A fixed mindset, by comparison, will thwart and limit your efforts to grow as a lifetime leader. When you fix your mindset to believe your abilities ‘are what they are,’ you have already imposed limits on your long-term success.
Cultivating and sustaining a growth mindset takes work but comes with a real payback: leaders with a growth mindset are far more likely to flourish than those with a fixed mindset.
4. EVOLVE YOUR SKILLS
As your circumstances change and evolve, so too must your skills. That will naturally look a little different for each leader, so you’ll be well served to commit to three practices:
- Consistently learning and growing in alignment with your leadership journey.
- Continually building and strengthening your existing skills.
- Intentionally expanding the range of skills in your toolkit within the context of your career.
The longer your career is, the more you’ll have to evolve your skills. Doing so can increase the potential for burnout when tackled alone, or all at once. Consider where you see yourself in the next 10 years, and start taking small steps now to evolve your skill set.
Ask yourself what you can do to learn, strengthen, or expand your skills whenever an opportunity comes up. What works best for you? Perhaps it’s:
- Serving on a special project team or tackling a stretch assignment.
- Working with a peer group that exposes you to different leadership challenges.
- Seeking out a mentor to help you focus your skills development.
- Investing in professional development or one-to-one coaching to help you move past roadblocks in your career.
- Participating in industry or community events, or networking.
- Taking on an industry or non-profit board leadership role to grow your leadership while expanding your network.
As you consider the skills you want to add to your toolkit and the ways you’d like to evolve them, you’ll find a menu of possibilities here.
5. CULTIVATE THE SUPPORTS YOU NEED
Consider the development of your lifelong, sustainable leadership career as a role you’ve been hired for. You’re in charge—the CEO of you.
However, you don’t need to go it alone. In fact, there’s much to be said for cultivating a range of supports, both people and practices, as your career evolves.
In considering what that might be for you, here are some powerful strategies that many of the leaders I work with have integrated into their personal and professional lives:
Self-care – regular investments in the self-care activities and pursuits that help you restore and rejuvenate are fundamental to your leadership effectiveness and impact. They are also the means to boosting your capacity for resilience, for the inevitable times when your leadership challenges may feel overwhelming.
Feedback loops – practice regular self-reflection, in addition to enlisting formal and informal leadership effectiveness assessments from time to time to deepen your awareness of your growth and impact, as well as the areas that will benefit from further work. Peer networks, mentors and advisors can all play a role here as well and are worth cultivating.
Accountability partners and processes – beyond feedback, having colleagues with whom you formalize accountability for the intentions you set, and the goals you may be working towards, helps you stay focussed on your leadership path and the progress you’re making along the way.
Building a sustainable leadership career gives you the latitude and flexibility to evolve your leadership as your personal and professional interests evolve. Whether that’s becoming a more senior leader in an existing organization, bringing your organizational expertise to an exciting start-up, or launching your own business, the choice can be yours if you’ve built your leadership ‘foundation’ to endure. By embracing the five strategies described above, you will be well on your way to realizing the personal fulfillment and lifetime leadership impact you desire—whatever the leadership journey you choose, and however it evolves.