How to Develop In-Demand Leaders

What separates great leaders from good ones? The ability to put the development of others at the forefront.

In a leadership environment rife with change and opportunity, learning leaders proactively seek better ways to augment the development experience. But how do good leaders become great?

Years ago, leadership experts thought that great leadership derived from having the right combination of traits like intelligence, dominance and confidence. Today, however, the most highly valued leaders are those most adept at engaging with others. Ultimately great leadership comes down to being intentional about learning from experience and finding ways to practice.

An excellent way to start is by creating meaningful goals focused on one or two areas for growth. A leader should first determine whether these goals involve improving at the current job or preparing for the future. Then, the leader should identify performance gaps with ways to address them. Input from the leader’s managers or colleagues can help. Once these goals are in writing, the best strategy is to share these goals with close associates to increase progress.

When goal-setting, focus on the needs and interests of others. Leaders whose goals are primarily “other-centric,” such as focused on helping their team members succeed, will likely have a greater probability of long-term professional success.

Simply put, a leader’s first job is to look out for the good of the organization by watching out for the good of those he or she leads. Such leaders determine the needs and interests of their employees by asking them questions: “What do you need in your job to make it work better?” or “What would help you to better see the importance of your work?”

There are a few reasons why this is important.

First, being focused on others clearly lends itself well to high-pressure situations. When a work team faces difficult or time-consuming assignments, an effective leader might ask: “What can I do to help? What might I tackle myself? Am I treating those who work for me the way I would like to be treated? Am I ensuring they have the resources to get the job done?”

One of the best ways leaders can demonstrate an others-first approach is by becoming a coach. Coaching is all about changing behavior. It requires four elements: a good relationship, a desired goal (challenge), a willing learner and a great environment (support).

In each individual coaching relationship, the leader should aim to assess and work to improve on the four critical elements: The relationship, the goals of the learner (creating the challenge), the mindset of the learner, and the support for the inevitable successes and failures of learning something new. All challenge with no support leads people to be afraid to try. All support with no challenge means the goal is too easy.

Quality feedback is vital for a successful coaching relationship. Effective leaders assume that people want to learn from them. One of the most common complaints at all levels of an organization is “I don’t get enough feedback from my manager.” Great leaders know that regularly providing feedback — both good and bad — shows others that their work matters.

Finally, leaders’ presence and connection to others makes a world of difference to those they lead. In a world of multi-tasking, text messaging and instant information, one of the most valuable things leaders can give is the power of attention — it shows care and commitment in real time.

Sandra Davis is CEO and co-founder of MDA Leadership Consulting and author of Pearls of Leadership Wisdom: Lessons for Everyday Leaders. She can be reached at