Here’s a little secret. When I use the phrase “emerging leader,” I’m talking about all of us. You’re never done learning to lead. Some of us are a bit more experienced, and others are more effective than others, yet even at retirement, the job of learning to lead is incomplete.

A Leadership Body of Knowledge?

If there were a formal Leadership Body of Knowledge (LBOK?), most of us can guess the behavior-focused content that would be included. Topics and practices related to cultivating trust, connecting with others, strengthening and displaying emotional intelligence, communicating for influence are just a few that jump to mind. (Check out my article: 10 Essential Behaviors for Emerging Leaders.)

However, while the content of this LBOK is predictable and finite, guidance on how to apply the concepts across the nearly infinite number of situations, conditions, and human interactions is the real issue. It’s this variability in circumstances and situations that tests us as humans and leaders, and it’s why we’re all permanently stuck in the “emerging” phase of leadership development.

5 Key Disciplines for Emerging Leaders

In my world of leadership coaching and workshop programs, there are five broad disciplines emerging leaders must work continuously to learn, rethink, and refine. These include:

  1. Leading—the core skills of guiding and engaging successfully with others in pursuit of a mission.
  2. Communicating for influence—the skills, and approaches essential for cultivating substantial influence with individuals and groups, and the ability to recognize when and how to adapt.
  3. Thinking critically—the ability to continually shift the view and surround issues from both outside-in and inside-out perspectives, and then make decisions in conditions of ambiguity.
  4. Cultivating influence—the ability to read the political environment and cultivate the influence power essential for getting things done at scale. (Yes, I doubled up on influence. Without influence, you can’t lead.)
  5. Developing oneself and others—the ability to remain in a state of continuous experimentation and learning, coupled with the ability to help others continuously refresh their know-how and perspectives.

Our work in each of these areas, coupled with the ability to integrate across categories, describes the emerging leader journey. In modern terms, these areas define the environment in which we are perpetually challenged to level-up.

What Does This Mean?

My message for anyone interested in developing and excelling as a leader is to recognize the need to invest in pursuit of cross-disciplinary knowledge and then to bring this knowledge to bear in that endless laboratory we call the workplace.

Developing as a leader is a full-contact activity. If you’re not continually learning, you’re moving in reverse at the speed of change.

Your immersion in topics ranging from history—especially biography—to human psychology, philosophy, and the latest advancements in neuroscience and technology, is part of the price you pay for developing as a leader.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Curiosity and an insatiable drive to understand “Why?” is part of the emerging leader’s preparation for the day when they have to guide the “How?” and the “Where?”

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For additional resources to support your growth, check out: 

 The Leadership Caffeine podcast, where I’m talking with people changing the world of professional and organizational development.

The Leadership and Management Book Talk podcast, where Wally Bock and I share our views on books on developing and succeeding as leaders and professionals.