A Global Workforce Leadership Survey released by Saba, a cloud-based talent management solutions company, and WorkplaceTrends.com, a research firm, report a growing talent gap at the executive levels:
Almost half (46%) of companies surveyed cited leadership as the skill hardest to find;
Only 15% of employees feel the training they get prepares them for the next position.
If you’re an aspiring leader, the good news is that employers feel the need for more leaders. The bad news is that existing training doesn’t appear to meet that need. Of course, you should still take advantage of the leadership development resources your current employer offers. But if you’re in transition or at a company with few or no resources, you will have to create your own leadership program. Here are ten low-cost options for customized leadership development:
Get a mentor
A mentor is a time investment to identify, attract and maintain the right relationship. But, other than coffees and lunches, financial investment can be kept at a minimum. As you think of people who could be mentors, think internal and external: internal to your department but also external to other departments; in your company and outside your company; in your industry and outside your industry. You want to consider a diverse pool, and select based on what your specific needs are, not just the senior-most person in a specific career.
Cultivate a Board
No mentor is going to be an expert in all of your development needs (and that’s too big a burden for one person!). Don’t stop at one mentor – cultivate a board. Much like an organization has a board of directors or trustees with diverse skills in finance, legal, HR, marketing, and other key functions, you should cultivate mentor experts for different areas that you need as a leader – relationship-building, negotiation, executive presence, public speaking, business strategy, industry knowledge, and more. Choosing different advisors for different areas ensures you are not overburdening any person, and you are also getting unique expertise.
Cultivate an accountability group
Mentors and Boards can increase your skills and expertise, while an accountability group will keep you motivated. This might be one person who you call each week to report on what each of you are doing, or you might form a group of several, all working towards a multistep goal. It doesn’t have to be the same goal – you can use your group to report on progress and get encouragement. Or you can put together a group oriented towards the same goal and share research and resources. When I moved into acting for several years and took time off from my corporate work I was part of an actors’ group, where we shared, not only progress, but casting leads and contacts. We also pooled together our resources to do combined mailings to different industry contacts.
Make friends in HR
You want to have friends in your current employer’s HR to help you understand the promotion process, raise and bonus decisions, and other inside information. But even HR contacts outside the company are critical to give you perspective on career planning and employment trends. A recruiter friend can do a mock interview with you and give you candid feedback on how you express your value proposition. An employee relations friend can role play with you when you have a sticky situation with a colleague or with your boss.
Target skills-based volunteering opportunities
Volunteering is a great way to meet people: work the registration desk at an industry conference; sit on a committee at your professional association. You’ll hear about cutting-edge developments, and meet actively engaged people for your mentor, Board, and accountability groups. But keep an eye out for skills-based volunteering opportunities which can help you shore up gaps in your own learning and experience. If you are a marketer, seek out a finance role. If you need more social media experience, become the community manager or website liaison.
Target lateral, cross-functional opportunities
Volunteering is not just for non-profits or other organizations outside your employer. Let your boss and colleagues know of your interest in areas outside your immediate one (just make sure you’re doing an excellent job with what’s already on your plate). This might be an internal project that cuts across different functions. Or it might be a workplace initiative, such as planning the annual meeting or starting an affinity group. Cross-functional opportunities within the company are great for both networking and skills-building.
Start a personal development book club
If you still don’t see the right opportunity in your company or community, get even more specific on the skills or expertise you need with a personal development book club. You can find people with like-minded interests – e.g., you all want to improve sales skills – and pick top sales books to read. You can cover one for each meeting and discuss as a group. Or you can each read a different one and present to each other. This way, you “read” multiple books simultaneously and also get practice in the key skills of presenting, synthesizing, and summarizing.
Revisit your alma mater
Career development resources are available at many universities for their alumni. Also check out libraries and community centers. Resources include webinars and workshops, networking events, speakers, conferences, newsletters, and even job listings.
Reengage with your alma mater
Don’t just use the resources at your alma mater. Contribute your own and get valuable skills and experience in the process. Offer to speak or mentor someone earlier in your career. It’s a great practice for public speaking, coaching, and other critical communication skills.
Be a mentor
Whether it’s through your alma mater or your current employer or a community organization, being a mentor is not just about giving back. It’s excellent for leadership development for the communication skills mentioned above, but also as a proactive way for you to synthesize what you know and reflect on what’s important. When you advise others on career choices and priorities, you can’t help but gain more clarity for yourself, or at least finally pose those key questions to yourself. As you help others identify what they need to become leaders, you will develop your own leadership profile.
This post originally appears in my leadership column on Forbes