Leadership Framework

Are you building the right foundation to take your career or business to the next level? Here’s what you should look for in a leadership development coach …

The Three Stages of Leadership Development


The problem …

No matter where you are in your career, you will always face the same questions as you grow, evolve and advance. Questions like:

“What should I do now?”

“Am I even building the right skills for where I want to go next?”

“Where should I focus my time and energy for greatest impact?”

In the past 15 years of working with ambitious smart clients, I’ve heard these questions hundreds of times, maybe even more.

It’s the kind of thing you think about, especially after you’ve won a big assignment, landed that elusive client, or earned that coveted promotion. That big ‘what’s next for me’ question can loom large for quite some time until you find your groove again.

Often times the challenge of managing your next career move, no matter where you are on the chain of command, is that you begin to feel that your situation is unique and only you are having the problems you experience on any given day.

The reality …

That’s simply not true. Each stage in your professional development (actually, it’s your leadership development) falls inside a simple three-level model, one that can be applied and reapplied as you move, grow, change and evolve no matter where you are in your career … entry-level associate, seasoned executive, or business owner.

Once you put aside the thinking that your situation is unique, you free yourself up to use this simple strategy to get to the next level without the unnecessary detours others seem to experience.

In this lesson, I’ll help you understand …

  1. The three core elements of leadership development
  2. What it feels like at each stage
  3. Where you should focus for maximum impact at each stage

Does this sound familiar?

Have you ever met someone who just supercharges the value of a network for everyone in it? It’s as if they are the beacon of light and energizer for everyone around them. They are more outwardly than inwardly focused and others gravitate to them, especially for advice, or to solve problems, or to brainstorm great ideas. They always know the right people and opportunities seem to come easily to them.

Not long ago, one of my clients came to me after having an interesting conversation with her colleague. She loves her job, but she’s not sure if it’s going to lead to a meaningful career (can you relate?), specifically because she hasn’t made any traction with advancement. She’s not getting any validation that the effort she’s putting into her work is going to pay off in the long run and she’s frustrated because she’s not working with decision-makers who have influence over the projects she gets.

Her well-meaning friend gave her the following advice:

“You haven’t been at this long enough and you have to pay your dues. You can’t just expect to get promoted or recognized without going through all the steps in the process. That wouldn’t be fair to the rest of us now, would it?”

As a business owner, recruit or seasoned executive, this little conversation is the perfect example of the nuances of image building as it relates to leadership development.

The trick is not to skip any steps, but instead to move through the steps quickly and efficiently. That way, you can validate whether you’re on the right path, or you need to make adjustments without losing too much of your time … because, hey, your time is precious.


Last year, I began using this approach with my clients and started seeing great results right away. I quickly realized that for many of us, a simple tweak in how we show up in any given situation could make a big difference in how things do or don’t work out.

Let’s get right into the framework so you can see the different stages and what you should be focusing on to have the greatest impact in your leadership development.



What it looks like …

Experiment and take action.

The initial stage of the Next Level Leadership Framework is the area of ‘Get Known’.

The ‘Get Known’ stage is the foundation of the framework and is exactly what it sounds like. You have no visibility and you are brand new to the environment. At this stage, you are a clean slate. If you’re at this stage, you’re typically new to your job, position, industry, or your business.

This stage is riddled with uncertainty and self-doubt. In fact, based on the comments from clients I have worked with over the years, it’s common to believe:

“These people just don’t understand me.”

“What if I don’t have anything in common with this group?”

“I am an introvert and really struggle with building the kind of connections I need to get noticed.”

“How am I going to grow my business if I don’t know the kind of influencers who will help me get visibility?”

It’s interesting because while the other two levels are about how you come across, this one is all about how other people respond to you. Unfortunately, it can give you the sense that you don’t have much control over your situation.

But that’s not always the case.

Fear, overwhelm and frustration are terms people used to explain what’s holding them back at this stage. That ‘feeling of stagnation’ causes people to ignore the resources they actually do have available to them or inside of themselves.

Being led by a nagging feeling of self-doubt causes too much time in the ‘get known’ stage to be spent on activities with little or no value, like large industry networking events and social hours, or watching others doing it with ease and trying to emulate their style. This only causes people to feel even less motivated and too overwhelmed to take meaningful action.

The remedy …

First things first, stop comparing yourself to other people, because this stage is not only about being seen, it’s about HOW you are seen. As human beings, we are unique so if you keep telling yourself, “I’m just going to blend into the background. Why would this influencer want to meet me? How am I going to get the courage to walk up to a stranger?” then you’ve already sabotaged your efforts.

Second, hiding behind your computer and using online social networks as your sole source of making connections and relationships isn’t going to cut it in the long run. You can definitely make some connections but nothing compares to the meaningful relationships that can emerge from a face-to-face meeting. Those deeper connections are worth it.

Third, embracing who you are at any point in your career or life and projecting that out into the world for all to see with confidence and a touch of humility, creates a genuine and unforgettable first impression.

Next steps …

No matter where you are in your career, if the right people don’t know who you are, you won’t have much traction. Taking small actions that will push you outside your comfort zone works much better than diving into the deep end all at once, especially with so much uncertainty at this stage. Because you’re still experimenting with how you want people to see you, set yourself up with success by implementing any combination of the following scenarios:

  • Industry events: the goal here is to get creative. The best way to do it is to attend an event where you won’t know anyone, set a goal of getting 5-10 connections, stay as long as you can tolerate and try to connect with people more influential than you, all while playing around with your message.
  • Cold calls (or a cold email): if you’re going to do this, then make sure you call people who are at least two levels higher than you are, or people who already have built their clientele. This is about making genuine connections with influencers. Don’t just reach out to them, share something you have in common and tell them you would love to get together for coffee or lunch. Make sure you have something of value to offer, because you aren’t just getting value; you’re giving it, too.
  • Professional organizations: It’s not just about joining the organization, it’s about volunteering and getting involved and becoming a go-to person in any specific area of expertise. This can become your platform, which not only sets you up to get known … it also sets you up to get respected.

Lesson learned …




What it looks like …

Build your reputation.

The ‘Get Respected’ stage is where you start to flex your leadership muscle. Always remember, the people around you don’t have to like you, but they should respect who you are and the choices you make. This is the beginning of establishing your credibility and your integrity.

I love this stage because it involves really getting deep into figuring out the kind of leader you want to be and how you want others to see you.

Some common examples look like this:

You’ve been put in charge of an important project for the first time, and you’re struggling with having others take you seriously or establishing your leadership style, because what worked for you in the past is not working for you now.

You’ve just received a great promotion but one person in the group seems to resent your presence and tests you at every opportunity.

Your new business has finally taken off but you’re struggling with managing your staff, expansion of your offerings, or clients who don’t understand boundaries.

Stress levels are high at this stage and you may start to worry that you won’t be able to overcome these challenges:

“Am I cut out for this?”

“How am I ever going to be able to delegate and still stay ahead of this work?”

“I know I can do this, but I’ve already had too many missteps. How could I possibly regain control and the respect of my colleagues?”

There can be a feeling of isolation and that familiar mindset that you’re fighting this battle alone. It’s also common to have feelings of overwhelm where you don’t know what to do next, with bouts of anxiety, worry and stress.

Despite the intense feelings, real leaders know this is a test and not a dead end. The ability to push through challenging situations, while standing by your convictions and consulting a mentor, coach or trusted advocate will help carry you through this difficult time.

The remedy …

Each stage has a fundamental element to leadership development that needs to be completed. In the Get Known stage, it’s all about getting out there and experimenting. In the Get Respected stage, it’s about making integrity and accountability the core of your reputation.

Make no mistake, at some point in your career you will fail. You will go out there and work really hard at trying to accomplish something big and whatever you’re trying to do, it just won’t work. Sometimes the emotional toll can be great. When it happens to you, forgive yourself, regroup and review the lessons learned. Having accountability means you’re not afraid to face the truth the next day. You have the courage to follow through on a difficult conversation and develop a plan to move forward without hurting the people involved.

At the same time, being able to stand up for what you believe in, stand up for the people who work with you, and take credit for something that didn’t work out just as much as something that did work, all contribute to building your integrity.

Next steps …

Focus your time and energy on determining what kind of leader you want to be. In fact, an article published by Harvard Business Review titled, “The Eight Archetypes of Leadership” by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, discusses the different ways people embrace their leadership style. Find a style that works for you in any given situation and play around with the different approaches until you land on something that’s a good fit, while also keeping the following in mind:

  • Respond to challenges from other people by getting clarity around how you want to be seen. As you flex your leadership muscle, there will be people who push back. The more you can respond rather than react to a challenging situation, the more likely you will build a strong reputation based on clear thinking.
  • Becoming a more strategic thinker adds to your leadership skills. What’s your strategy for getting ahead? Do you know where you’re going and why you want to go there? Do you know what steps you need to take next, which people you need to know (or impress) and what it will take to get to the NEXT LEVEL? Do you have a plan? If not, start mapping it out. The more you see it in front of you, the easier it will be to keep that clarity when things get tough.
  • Change your mindset to reach your goals. Your best strength comes from being the best you you can be. So who are you? It’s easy to slip into the thought that things are happening to you and that others are out to do you harm (sometimes that happens). For the most part, however, it has to do with your attitude about what’s happening around you. Changing your mindset is powerful. In a sense, it’s the act of unthinking that makes it significant. Take away the negative, the assumptions, the suspicions and the anger. Replace it with an impartial perspective and look for ways to benefit from the current situation.

Lesson learned …

Reputation. Integrity. Accountability.



What it looks like …

Learn how to deliver results.

If you find yourself at the stage where you’ve discovered who you are and how you want to be seen … then congratulations! You are now at the stage where you can prove your worth. This is a place where few emerging leaders arrive.

Developing your reputation is hard work and many aspiring leaders think that’s all there is to the equation, but one more element truly distinguishes the leaders from the next level leaders – and that’s follow-through.

At this stage, you finally have clarity around who needs to be in your network and how you want those people to see you. You also have a roadmap for where you want to go next in your career or business and a strategy for how to get there. Your biggest challenge is getting someone to take a chance on you. For that to happen, influencers need to see your strengths.

The remedy …

The most common experiences for aspiring leaders at this stage are:

Passion! You get up because you have a mission and you’re doing something that excites you. You’re no longer at the mercy of other people to feel satisfaction in your daily work.

You have a toolbox of solutions. You now see answers to difficult situations and opportunities where none previously existed no matter where you are or what you’re doing. You’ve now built the habit of tapping into those solutions readily available to use at any time you run into problems.

Strengths development. At this stage, you have now clearly identified where you have strengths and weaknesses and you spend 90% of your time developing your strengths.

Next steps …

If you want people to trust you – those that work with you, those that buy from you, or those that invest in your ideas – then you need to invest your time and resources on delivering results. How? High performance comes from developing your strengths, not working on your weaknesses.

If this sounds counterintuitive to everything you’ve been told, then listen up. The problem with trying to work on your weaknesses is that it creates the mindset of “we need to fix what’s wrong with you.” The only time we want to look at weaknesses is to identify where we DO NOT want to focus any energy.

Take a look at your strengths. There are many ways to do this, but the most common is taking a self-assessment, and there are a multitude of assessments out there. No matter which assessment you choose to take, it’s important to keep in mind that we all have primary strengths and secondary strengths.

Your primary strengths are the ones you can do with ease and comfort. If you want to grow and evolve, take a look at some of your secondary strengths that may not be as intuitive and pick the ones that are complementary to where you are in your career today and where you want to be tomorrow. This pushes you outside your comfort zone without setting you up for failure or anxiety. That way, you are always building on a toolkit of strengths that will take you to the next level or stage in your leadership development.

Lesson learned …

Know yourself, know your limitations and deliver results.



What it looks like …

Responsible leadership

If you’ve worked hard to nurture a strong network, establish your reputation with integrity, and develop your strengths into high performance, then …

Congratulations. You’ve accomplished what many do not.

If you’re working your way up the chain of command at a company you like, then you’re ready to keep climbing. If you’re the owner or founder of your business, then you’ve had some impressive wins.

Staying in this position is an easy trap. Think about it. You worked hard to establish yourself as a leader and a strong example to the others around you. It’s easy to feel satisfied as you look over the summit you’ve just climbed and think that you only need to do this once. In reality, this framework is designed to be used over and over again, each time you’re ready to rise to the next level.

The remedy …

Take a deep breath, look around you, enjoy the accomplishment, celebrate how far you’ve come – and then turn to what’s next for you. For some of you, you’ve gone as far as you can go and that’s great. You’ve reached a level that allows you to have more freedom in the decisions you make and choices available to you. You’ve reached a level of accomplishment that you can be proud of and you are well compensated for your work. Keep working on your strengths, continue to grow and tweak your network, and experiment with different projects for variety.

For others, this is just the beginning, as you look forward to navigating and climbing many more mountains. Start looking for a mastermind group, mentor, leadership development coach or advisor who will guide you through the unknown parts. Start small and work with a variety of people. Test out their advice and be discerning about how they help you. A good advisor works with you and helps you along YOUR journey – they don’t do it for you or tell you what to do at every turn. Eventually, you want to build a team of confidants that you go to whenever you have a tough problem and need help.

Next steps …

The most common skills that next level leaders work on at any given stage are:

Negotiation. Effective negotiation skills will take you far so start small and start early. The more comfortable you get asking for something in return, the more likely you are to negotiate when it’s important. And don’t forget that the goal of effective negotiation is to get to a win-win agreement.

Persuasion. Learning how to read people and anticipate how they will respond to a particular situation will help you get more done. Persuasion is all about timing – sharing the right information at the right time with the right person.

Conflict resolution. Leaders are made or broken depending on their approach to conflict. As mentioned before, you want people to respond to you, not react to you. Similarly, people want and expect the same from you. For best results, learn how to stop, think and respond.

Influence. Your capacity to convince key players and stakeholders to invest in your ideas, projects and initiatives will have great impact on your ability to level up. Remember, you can’t have influence without respect and trust.

Lesson learned …

Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Don’t get too comfortable where you are and start working on your next leadership development strategy.

Final Thoughts:

At the end of the day, each stage in the leadership development process represents an area of growth. Taken together, this exercise not only helps you progress, it also helps you evolve.

  • When you Get Known, you experiment and take action, collecting a diverse group of connections that can introduce you to new experiences.
  • When you Get Respected, you build your reputation on a foundation of integrity and accountability.
  • When you Get Trusted, you deliver results by building on your high performance strengths.

It all comes down to this: if you really want to have a meaningful career or successful business you have to ask yourself two questions every time you make a change. How do I want to be seen? Who do I want to see me? Then adjust accordingly.

Executive Coach Christina Holloway | Business CoachABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Christina Holloway is a leadership coach, writer, and speaker. She loves working with ambitious clients ready to break through to the next level in their career or business. Click here for more information on her leadership development coach packages.

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