Leadership first, then career development


Career opportunities for managers are partly dependent on their leadership development. If you have underdeveloped in key areas, your chances will be reduced. At the same time, a new job can also drive one’s leadership development.  This is because it determines the type of experiences one gains. Our advice is: put your leadership development and not your career development and choices at the center of the career choices you make. Read why below.

“Who do I want to become?” versus “What do I want to do?”

Leadership development represents growth as a person to be effective as a leader (Day & Dragoni, 2015). What we experience more than once in our practice is that professionals are (too) guided in their careers by their career development (what do I want or need to do?), but much less by their leadership development (who do I want to become?). This is unfortunate. On the one hand because leadership development also entails personal development, but on the other hand because it sometimes leads to the painful confrontation that leadership and career development have not proceeded in parallel. Put more bluntly, people have sometimes made promotions, but have often not grown sufficiently as leaders to take the next steps in their careers. Among professionals “in the spring” of their development as leaders, we see, especially among top talent, an intense drive for career development, which is rarely accompanied by an equally intense drive for leadership development. There is insufficient understanding of the difference between the two.

What you do partly determines who you become

So how do you put your leadership development at the top of your list when it comes to your career choices? Certainly not by superficially “building” your resume. We often speak to candidates who feel, for example, that now is the time for them to lead larger groups of people, because that is what they need in their career. Or that they want to become responsible for more sales. Or that it would be in line with their career if they were to take on responsibility at a head office. Just to ‘have done it’ once. We don’t think those are the best questions to properly determine your next step. We always start with candidates first by doing an analysis of their leadership development. Where are you in your growth as a leader? Then we translate the areas of development into environments where they can gain relevant experiences.

For example, if you need and want to develop yourself further in sensitivity, you can look for a leader who is very strong in that and can coach you well in that. Or accept a position that demands a lot from you in this competence because of the great interdependence of the role. Or are you strong in interpersonal skills but do you score less on, for example, decisiveness? In what kind of environment and position could you develop this? It is our experience that, especially for top talent, this approach leads to a much more sustainable and powerful career growth, than the previously discussed more superficial notions.

Dragoni, cited earlier, cites even more examples of experiences (or, Developmental Assignments: DAs) that are effective for specific developmental areas. For example, there are task-, or obstacle-related DAs (Dragoni, et al. 2009). Task-related could be: “unknown responsibilities” and having to manage a technology or a market with which you are unfamiliar; or “inherited problems”, and taking responsibility for a direct report with historical performance issues. Obstacle related could be, for example, having a lack of management support and having to “beg, borrow and steal” to get anything done.

First things first

What do I still have to do in terms of leadership development? Where are the gaps? What experiences are going to help me with that? And what does that mean for my career choices? As far as we are concerned, these are important questions. Asking these questions, in this order, helps prevent career opportunities from narrowing because career and leadership development have not paralleled each other.

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