Regardless of where you’re at in your career — perhaps you’re still a student at a university, maybe you’ve been in the industry for a few years, or maybe you’re an old hand — a key ingredient to motivation is mastery of your craft. Or at least a sense of working toward mastery. (Watch Dan Pink’s explanation of motivation, including mastery.)

The Leader’s Role

Managers might have team members who aspire to leadership positions themselves. It’s likely too that they’ll have team members who are happy where they’re at, but they should also be aspiring for a higher level of competency in their craft. Great leaders focus on how well their team members are progressing toward their desired and needed mastery. It’s time that the folks in positions of authority need to ask themselves if they want to manage tasks or lead people.

It’s easy to forget, in the hustle of deadlines and other pressures, that a great leader’swriting-1149962_1920 primary focus should be on the development of her team. We worry about financial targets, project deadlines, and goals. But if we’re striving for true achievement, for ourselves, our team, the company and customers, the better qualified our team is the more likely it is that we achieve our goals.

If you’re a manager of some sort right now, when was the last time you followed-up with a team member who recently attended some training, a conference, or some other professional development experience?


Dan Pink has taught us that all employees need three things actually motivate employees (once they’re being paid a competitive salary):

  • Purpose
  • Autonomy
  • Mastery

Purpose and autonomy are important. But I want to focus on mastery right now.

Mastery of a domain requires focused practice, feedback, training, and purposeful person-690157_1920coaching. And ultimately it’s up to each person to take responsibility for their professional development. But leaders can play a hugely important role in that development. The following are a few things leaders can do to support their employees’ development:

  1. Talk with employees one-on-one about their aspirations and future plans. While it’s sometimes awkward at first, honest and direct questions like “where do you want to be in three years?” and “what are you doing to get yourself there?” are perfect ways to begin those conversations.
  2. Listen to the responses and don’t feel threatened, even if the answer might be “I want your job.” That’s happened to me before, once I’d convinced my employees that I truly wanted an honest answer. I’ll focus more on that later.
  3. Proactively look for development opportunities for your team. Those can be formal — conferences, training classes, an online course, and so on. But even more effective are informal options. For example, one employee told me that while she was currently and instructional designer she really wanted to explore roles like human resource consultants. So I negotiated a job shadow relationship for that employee with one of the companies HR consultants. It was great for all three of us: I earned more respect and engagement from my employee; my employee felt valued and learned that the HR consultant role wasn’t something she’d actually be interested in; the HR consultant got some free labor.
  4. Follow-up. After an employee completes, or even during some development opportunity, talk with your employees. Ask questions like “what did you learn?” and “so what are you going to do differently now that you know that?” Who knows … you might even learn something.

Leadership Preparation

Leaders should always be looking for and preparing their own replacement. They should also focus on helping their team members so they’re ready for the next step in their career — whatever that might be.

Recently Adam Grant answered a few questions and one of the things he mentioned is the mistake many leaders make by hiring from the outside instead of promoting from the inside.

Not only do leaders have the moral responsibility to make themselves accountable for their team members’ individual success, but it will pay off in greater employee engagement, which improves business achievement.


So focus on your team’s development. It has short and long-term benefits for you, your employee, the company and potentially beyond.