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Think back over your career to the times when you grew the most as a leader. Some of those growth spurts likely occurred when you had a new job opportunity or perhaps when you dealt with a crisis or other significant challenge. But, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, it’s also important to remember that equally powerful learning experiences can be found in the context of your current job. Through developmental assignments, you can shape your work and life experiences in ways that will expand your leadership knowledge and skills.

“Challenging, real-life experiences are rich sources of growth and learning, but you don’t have to wait for opportunities to present themselves,” says CCL’s Cynthia McCauley. “You can-and should-be proactive and seek them out.” Developmental assignments are roles and activities that provide opportunities for you to stretch and grow as a leader. They don’t require a major job shift or a move to a new organization.

Developmental assignments allow leaders to intentionally develop new skills, practice new behaviors and improve on weaknesses. Here are three approaches for adding developmental assignments to your current job:

  • First, take a good look at your current job and think about how you might reshape it. Adding new responsibilities to your job or restructuring it might be more doable than you think. Consider moving a responsibility from someone else’s plate to your own, trading tasks with a colleague or taking on a role or task that needs to be done but that no one currently “owns.” Also re-examine responsibilities that are already a legitimate part of your job, but have received little attention. The changes you make can be permanent or temporary. Remember, the goal is to make changes that enhance your leadership skills.
  • Second, take on temporary assignments. Look outside your job description or department for projects, task forces, one-time events and activities that you can participate in for a short period of time. You might wonder, “Who has the time to take on more work?” But if your goal is to grow as a leader while you are in your current job, you may need to temporarily make the time to take on more.
  • Third, seek challenges outside the workplace. Other areas of your life often provide the same challenges found in job settings. You’ll find plenty of leadership responsibilities in nonprofit, religious, social and professional organizations, as well as schools, sport teams and family life. There are many opportunities to learn lessons of leadership through personal experiences.

Developmental assignments give leaders the opportunity to ignite their ‘growing edge,’ where deeper knowledge is discovered and new capabilities are honed. Without those experiences, leaders continue to rely on a narrow set of skills and limit their career potential.

As you explore developmental assignments to help you grow as a leader, remember these three important truths about Leader Development:

  • Number one. Effective leaders continue to develop their repertoire of skills throughout their careers. To be effective in a wide variety of leadership roles and situations, you have to master new competencies. Instead of always relying on a limited set of natural capabilities, you must become well-rounded. This development of a repertoire of skills is a gradual, continuous process.
  • Number two. A significant part of leader development occurs though practical experiences. You learn when your day-to-day responsibilities and challenges require it – and when you have the opportunity to engage in experiences, draw lessons and insights from those experiences and apply the new knowledge and skills to the next experience.
  • Number three. The more varied the practical experiences, the greater the likelihood of developing a broad repertoire of leadership skills.Leaders who continue to focus only on doing the work they are already good at are less likely to broaden their capacity. Leaders who step into new situations that test other abilities continue to develop their skills and successfully take on higher levels of leadership responsibility.

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