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A few years ago, I embarked on an adventure by moving abroad to teach English in a small, rural North Macedonian village. This endeavor was full of surprises, growth, challenges, and excitement. Amidst the unfolding experiences, a pivotal challenge emerged: evolving into a leader whom my students and fellow co-teachers could truly benefit from. Time, and perhaps a touch of luck, led me to discover strategies that helped me navigate the classroom dynamics. Yet, hindsight reveals that having accessible and practical leadership development strategies on hand would have been a game-changer.

In a previous leadership article, Merrill explored the merits of prioritizing leadership development for public sector organizations. These included the capacity to navigate change, bolster diversity, elevate employee morale, and nurture a culture of continuous learning. In the current landscape, leadership development holds unparalleled importance for public sector entities.

While organizational leadership development is an ongoing process, how might you get started?

Begin at the heart of leadership development: actionable strategies. Here, we present three impactful leadership approaches and explore how they align with the public sector context.

  1. Deepen self-awareness

Self-awareness serves as the cornerstone of effective leadership. Self-awareness is your ability to look inward, reflect deeply on your actions, and consider how your actions align with your values. Research suggests that when we see ourselves more clearly, work to foster our strengths, and improve our blind spots, we are more confident and creative. To begin deepening your self-awareness, ask “what” instead of “why” when trying to understand our emotions. For example, instead of thinking “why do I feel so terrible about this project,” ask yourself, “what are the situations that often make me feel terrible and what do they have in common.” When asking “what” questions, this helps us stay objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on our new insights.

  1. Focus on workplace realities

Another way you can develop your leadership and help others develop theirs is to link learning with real-world challenges and opportunities. By bringing leadership theory to life, you can better understand how your work supports your organization’s mission, vision, and purpose. One approach is to use experiential learning. Leadership, at the end of the day, is active. People learn best by encountering experiences and changes, reflecting on what happened, and walking away with new insights that can be applied in future situations. Start today and challenge yourself, and others, to take on “stretch assignments.”

  1. Leverage mentorship

Research shows that people find social advice more reliable than non-social advice. By leaning on the advice, insight, and guidance from others, there is an opportunity to “up” your leadership “game.” Elevating your social connections, whether inside or outside of your organization, can result in actionable and relatable skill/experience sharing. Mentorship does not necessarily need to start as a formal program; first, tap into the connections and relationships you have and intentionally make an effort to learn about and from their work experiences. You can start today by asking trusted co-workers or network connections some of the following questions: “What recent accomplishment are you proud of and what did you learn?”, “What new self-discovery have you made?”, and “How do you continually enhance your performance?”

Incorporating self-awareness, melding theory with practicality, and embracing mentorship are a few strategic leadership development pathways to consider.

Remember, leadership development is an ongoing journey, and by adapting strategies to the unique needs of your public sector organization, you pave the way for personal growth, heightened efficacy, and a positive influence on your community.

The development journey begins with actionable steps and a commitment to nurture your leadership potential.