Changing From Within: How Professional Development Can Transform Your Leadership Style

Leadership is both an active research area and an act of practical skill wherein individuals continuously enhance their knowledge within unlearned areas, add value to the work that they do, and positively move their team and companies forward. Leading where you are begins with introspection and initiates the path to develop strengths that accelerate change.

Lead Where You Are

Practical leadership begins before you read a book or article, attend a conference, or become a student within a professional development class. Leadership begins with a growth mindset of where it is not about you, and it becomes about the willingness to learn, grow, and be of service to others. The purpose of this publication is to share how participating in professional development trainings can help you implement transformative change in your life and the lives of those around you.

Clemson Cooperative Extension Service recognized the need to invest within their employees by creating the Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative (EELI) to develop future leaders, increase employee engagement, and help create forward actions to enhance the mission of Extension. The mission of EELI is to develop a core group of successful leaders who will inspire, have a vision, and create impact to assist in moving the organization forward.1 To grow in leadership and professional development, an individual will need to know thyself, their talents, passions, and growth areas. Being a participant within EELI can challenge your thinking and help you become a change agent within your field.

Professional development is directly related to the day-to-day activities of each individual.2 What we constantly do defines us. Leading where you are is the first step in building relationships that will foster trust with your co-workers and upper management. Your creativity can begin with the curiosity to learn about topics and expand your thinking in subjects you are not well-versed in. This can provide you with the opportunity to create dialogue and open exchanges to sharpen your skills needed for project management, facilitation, and recruitment.

EELI has been a source of support, creating a foundation wherein participating staff can be a bridge for their own growth and development. Students share wins through fellowship, engagement, and appreciation for their individual and collective roles. Their goal is to create a coalition for change wherein safe spaces are created to share life stories and professional experiences while designing equitable and inclusive systems for their co-workers and those to come.

Communication is very pivotal in building teams and creating partnerships. Learners comprehend and respond in a myriad of ways due to varied backgrounds, learning styles, and change styles. Building clear communication and expectations can progress the overall vision when conveyed and received successfully.

CliftonStrengths Assessment

There are several metrics and learning tools available to impact personal leadership interactions. The CliftonStrengths assessment measures an individual’s talents and categorizes them within themes.3 This metric can be utilized to identify what your team or teammates do best and forge an understanding of teambuilding towards a common goal.

After identifying your strengths through the CliftonStrengths assessment, be purposeful in using them to collaborate effectively within and outside your program team. Increased knowledge of yourself, your purpose, and your “why” is valuable in order to bring about transformational change at work. Such change can aid in implementing systems that create significant growth within the organization and improve performance.

An example of a CliftonStrengths excerpt from an Extension employee’s assessment follows:

  • Responsibility – take ownership of actions and be committed to stable values of honesty and loyalty.
  • Relator – enjoy close relationships and fulfillment in working hard to achieve a goal.
  • Activator – work to make things happen by turning thoughts into action now rather than later.
  • Restorative – be adept at dealing with issues and discovering what is wrong and methods to resolve it.
  • Belief – have a defined purpose in life.

The above-displayed strengths may be used as guiding principles to interact with others and can be instrumental when building a team. Understanding that others operate differently than you will aid in your first steps of fostering inclusion. For example, when a boss or manager calls for a meeting, some individuals are quite comfortable with a quick meeting without knowing the discussion topics. Other individuals need notification about the discussion topics and would prefer an agenda at least a week in advance. Giving agenda items and advance notice for meetings can help alleviate possible anxiety of the meeting topics and facilitate their preparation. This simple act displays consideration, understanding, and willingness to interact with others to improve team functionality.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

After obtaining new information on your strengths, you may wish to set new goals. Setting goals is instrumental to personal development and growth, as goals can promote improved behaviors, guide your focus, and help maintain your momentum. Framing goals in terms of your strengths enables you to create strategic S.M.A.R.T.4 goals, execute plans, become more engaged at work, and increase productivity within your role.

S.M.A.R.T. goals are established to aid in improving your skills and achievements. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based and can be utilized as a framework to guide you in setting goals that are clear, carefully planned, and obtainable.

Consider this example of how to adapt the goal, “I want to be a leader,” into a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

  • S=Specific

Example: “I will coordinate the development of a new statewide program with help from my program team, as I
desire to be a leader.”

  • M=Measurable

Example: “I will lead the development of one new statewide program this year and submission of one grant to support that program.”

  • A=Achievable

Example: “My program team supports developing the new program. Information resources are available at Clemson and other land-grant institutions that will aid in program development. Grant support services will guide the team through the grant submission process.”

  • R=Realistic

Example: “I will work with my program team director to ensure that developing this program meets one or more Employment Performance Management System (EPMS) objective(s) for the program team members involved.”

  • T=Time-Based

Example: “To achieve my goal of being a leader, I will set aside three to five hours per week to read relevant materials, write and develop curriculum for the new program, write and submit a grant proposal (submission goal within the first six months of this year), and implement this new program within three to four months as a pilot within my county. During the pilot program, we will utilize pre- and post-evaluations as a reference for further enhancement and development for the statewide program.”

Once you have decided to challenge yourself by creating S.M.A.R.T. goals, and you are on track with your timeline, consider generating buy-in from others. The Transtheoretical Model, also called the Stages of Change Model, is a model that details an individual’s readiness to change (figure 1).5

The Transtheoretical Model, Stages of Change diagram includes Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance.

Figure 1. The Transtheoretical Model, Stages of Change. Image credit: Adapted by Faith Israel, Clemson University, from “Transtheoretical model of change” by Jennamag licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Assessing and respecting where individuals are within the five stages (Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance) can help gauge the most flexible and adaptable approach while continually moving toward the goal of facilitating organizational change. As a leader, it is imperative to understand that individuals on your team have a different story and think and solve problems in their own unique way based on varied motivations. With this knowledge, work to integrate more customized strategies to assess an individual’s readiness to change by acknowledging individuals may travel through these six stages at different rates of speed.

Below are ten guiding principles that you may find helpful in developing your leadership for a more inclusive future.

  1. Know yourself, your abilities, talents, and passion.
  2. Be clear and consistent regarding your core principles and values.
  3. Be genuine.
  4. Embrace change and work to understand what is needed and when.
  5. Forgive yourself during the losses and the times when you fail.
  6. Learn from your losses and failures and become better in spite of them.
  7. Take the time to learn the best way to communicate with those you work with.
  8. Embrace difficult conversations; they help you grow.
  9. Never assume; ask questions for clarity and understanding.
  10. Be humble and give others grace.

Take advantage of professional development opportunities. Active participation in professional development training helps you develop a higher level of emotional intelligence, learn to actively listen with an empathetic ear, and connect daily responsibilities with the broader strategic goal. By striving to keep learning and implementing newly acquired skills, we support and continuously further the mission of the organization for which we work.

References Cited

  1. Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative. Clemson (SC): Clemson University, Clemson Cooperative Extension. 2020 [accessed 2020 Jul 7].
  2. Mourão L. The role of leadership in the professional development of subordinates. London, United Kingdom: IntechOpen; 2018. doi:10.5772/intechopen.76056.
  3. Buckingham M, Clifton DO. Now, discover your strengths. New York (NY): Simon and Schuster; 2001.
  4. Doran GT. There’s a SMART way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management review. 1981 Nov;70(11):35–36.
  5. Prochaska JO, Velicer WF. The transtheoretical model of health behavior change. American Journal of Health Promotion: AJHP. 1997 Sep–Oct;12(1):38–48. doi:10.4278/0890-1171-12.1.38.

Publication Number



Looking for homeowner based information?

Share This