A Leader’s Role in Career Development

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What’s a leader’s role in career development?

We live in a world of continuous fluctuation and leaders are faced with increased challenges and complexities. This volume of change heightens the need for each of us to take hold of our own career development. We cannot rest on our laurels and coast. Wikipedia defines career development as how individuals change their careers within and between organizations.

According to the Canadian Career Development Foundation, ‘it is the lifelong process of managing your living, learning and earning in order to move to where you want to be’. The trick is how to do this for yourself and how to help others with their own development!

It can be helpful to remind ourselves of the following career development cycle:

  1. Know Yourself – interests, skills, values, style preferences
  2. Explore Possibilities – do some research, experiment with new assignments, choices
  3. Make Choices – set goals, develop a plan and identify any potential barriers
  4. Make it Happen – implement your plan and reflect on your learning

What’s in it for leaders to play a part in the career development of their team members?

  • Coaching and developing others along with identifying and developing future talent were two of the top five future skills needed in the next three years as reported in DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast (Canada Highlights), 2011
  • According to Michael Campbell and Roland Smith who authored ‘High-Potential Talent’, high potentials are more committed and engaged when they have a clear career path in sight (Center for Creative Leadership, 2010)
  • Given changing demographics, it is critical to prepare successors for the impending skills shortage and potential leadership vacuum
  • Having a growth mindset is a proven contributor to being known as an effective leader who drives exceptional business results
  • Developing talent is one of the most significant drivers of employee engagement

As a leader, how do you assist with career development?

Let’s start by being very clear. The responsibility and accountability for career development resides with your employees. Your role is to support, prompt, explore possibilities, and guide action – not to do the doing!

Common Myths…

  • It takes too much time and I am too busy
  • If career development is not brought up, perhaps employees will not think about it
  • Given that employees need to own their own development, it is not my job
  • Everyone wants bigger roles
  • Development is best reserved for high potential employees only and most already have plans in place

Sometimes we have the mindset that career development is all about finding new roles. In reality, it is broader than this and actually focuses on helping others grow, regardless if it results in securing a new position. Fundamentally, effective career development equates to having quality conversations. Conversations that are designed to raise awareness, explore possibilities and options and identify employee-owned action. This is fundamentally a coach-approach to career development with the leader primarily asking questions to provoke thought and action. The employee should be doing over 80% of the speaking.

What if you chose to shift your focus from completing the once a year development form as part of the annual performance review to embedding career discussions within the flow of everyday work? Consider the benefits – ongoing dialogue communicates a more genuine commitment to the employee and development, keeps development alive in everyone’s eyes, sustains momentum and progress and allows for employees to layer insights and action more easily.

Leaders help employees with career development by asking quality questions designed to:

  • Create reflection, insight, some tension, ideas and action in others
  • Keep the focus completely on the employee
  • Show that you respect and value the employee
  • Reinforce the shift of ownership for development to the employee

Are you asking questions such as…

What was the best part of the month/quarter for you?

How often were you stretched and how did that feel?

What are you known for?

What lessons do you find yourself learning over and over again?

What kinds of experiences will help prepare you to meet your goal?

Call to Action

Reflect on how you are currently positioning career development and your role in fostering the ongoing growth of your employees. What different conversations could you start having? How could you shift your perspective? What is your next step?

Recommended Resource

Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go…Career Conversations Employees Want by Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni, 2012

This practical tool is full of questions and exercises to use during career development conversations. The authors use the frame of hindsight, foresight and insight as the back-drop to the flow of discussions. The book can also be used as a self-directed tool for your own ongoing career planning. Check it out – it is worth the read!


“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”