Invest in Yourself: 4 Strategies to Elevate Your Leadership

In my mind, I hear a wise influencer’s wry statement: “No change, no change.” Translation: if inputs (person, process, strategy, etc.) don’t change, the outcome will not shift towards desired results. Whether an executive or leader seeks to increase his or her impact, assure organizational objectives, shape—or reshape—perceptions, expand influence, or become unstuck from unsatisfying roles or frustrating situations, changes in thinking and behavior are central to achieving “different” results. This post introduces development as an investment and explores four paths leading to personal and professional growth.

Development as Investment

Regardless of strategy employed, development should be viewed as an investment leading to future beneficial outcomes. Just as a wise investor would examine the costs, risks, and rewards of a financial opportunity, an astute leader must analyze the cost (time, energy, money) against the likelihood and potential return (desired outcomes). In addition, he or she should give serious consideration to the cost of not acting.

Consider a leader who desires to change roles—this might be to achieve a higher organizational level, or take on a larger or more challenging division, function, or business unit. He or she may have had feedback suggesting a need for greater strategic capacity, demonstrated executive presence, expanded experience, or differing leadership approaches. She or he invests resources (time, money, commitment to development actions). After three to six months of conscious execution, other leaders, peers, and reports recognize changes in thinking, behaviors, and impact. This leads to access to desired opportunities within an accelerated timeframe.

In a simplified example, imagine development leading to reward for valued performance. Let’s make the math easy. Our hypothetical leader earns $100,000 and can invest $1000, $3000, $6000, or even $10,000 in herself. She chooses the maximum of $10,000—a stretch at 10% of income. At year-end, as a result of the development and significant performance changes, our leader receives a 10% salary increase at an organization that averages 3% annual increases. We make the unlikely assumption our executive engages in no further growth in role or impact, and just receives the average in future years. Compare the net value of having made this investment with a choice not to invest in herself:

Image of spreadsheet comparison

Over the period, our leader earns over $19,000 more in additional income, when compared with the average—after accounting for the investment (net value $50,199 – $30,914). But what if she decides to wait? The following calculations illustrate the cost of waiting one or two years before investing in development:

Spreadsheet comparison

Deferring the investment reduces our executive’s return to $12,285 (additional income over the period) if she waits one year and $5,075 if she waits for two years. This simplified example doesn’t take into account the benefits of additional extrinsic and intrinsic rewards important to an individual leader.

When the analysis is undertaken by an organization instead of an individual, the factors weighed change. Potential considerations include the value of increased productivity, retention, succession bench strength, engagement, innovation, competitiveness, and other objectives against the costs of development (internal or external programs, executive coaches, other training or education), attrition, delays or gaps in achieving business objectives. Additionally, not developing talented individuals to facilitate readiness to move seamlessly into new roles that demand higher leadership capacity creates higher operational risk.

Executive and Leadership Development Strategies

Executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals have multiple options for leadership development. Before examining the four strategies featured in this post, let’s review a few alternate potential channels and approaches. Each option has a different trade-off in terms of time, cost, the source of funding, and value.

The first option simply involves solo development. The upside of a solo journey is generally high customization—an individual decides what he wants to learn or work on, researches options, and embarks on a self-designed “learn-do” program. This self funded choice may be low to moderate cost, but often takes longer to implement and see results without the feedback, feed forward, support, or accountability built into other options.

Solo plans can be simple, sourcing new knowledge and ideas from reading, webinars and videos, and workshops or conferences. Going solo may also involve trial and error, because even choosing the right leadership book to read requires down-selecting from thousands of options (a search of Amazon for “leadership” in books returns over 176,000 results).

Internal leadership programs offer a no financial cost option to individuals, because the development is designed (or purchased) and implemented by a leader’s company. Instead of payment, participants invest time, energy, and commitment. Offerings vary, depending on the organization. These may or may not be customized to the company or industry.

Larger companies have programs aligned with the unique needs at different career phases—emerging front-line leaders, mid- to senior management, and executive leadership. Some organizations include a cohort-based experience, with a project deliverable. In general, internal programs take less than six months. Access, however, is often limited to a select few. Leaders benefit from the exposure, but many programs focus on building specific knowledge and competencies without attention to generating additional leadership capacity through individual development.

External leadership programs, in particular, executive certificate and degree programs from reputable institutions, are an excellent resource. Quality executive programs tend to be high cost—in the $70,000 to over $100,000 range. Individuals should check on opportunities to fund all or part of executive education through company sponsorship.

Certificate programs vary in duration, but are generally six months or less. Executive focused degree programs, such as Executive MBAs or MS in Executive Leadership, frequently follow an accelerated time line with periodic weekend scheduling to accommodate learning while working. Not all executive programs have an emphasis on leadership development; individuals should investigate programs to determine a best fit for needs before applying. Reach out to current students and alumni and interview them about their experiences.

When an executive, entrepreneur, or professional seeks to address specific change in life or work, leadership or executive coaching offers a partnership approach focused solely on the individual’s goals. Coaching relationships deliver significant, timely results when the leader is open to the “self-work” and committed to the actions and accountability of elevating his or her leadership to the next level. Leaders and executives should choose a coach with knowledge, experiences, and breadth of “tool box” to support their unique objectives. Investing in a coaching partnership involves moderate to high cost, but far less than executive degree programs.

Like an executive program, funding may be sponsored (all or in part) by the individual’s organization. Sponsored funding influences the dynamics of the relationship by including an individual’s leader and possibly an HR representative in the process of framing objectives. The best coaches, however, assure the interests of her or his client stay central to the engagement. The next sections highlight four distinct strategies of leadership development through the coaching partnership path.

One on One

The concept of executive or leadership coaching is widely recognized. Creating an excellent partnership requires a relationship of trust and good fit. A good coach will offer clients an opportunity to test fit. In my coaching practice, I call these preliminary no obligation conversations a “discovery” session. The general flow of a coaching engagement involves supporting the executive or leader in framing one to three initial objectives, gaining clarity on the reality or context of the leader’s situation, generating alternatives that lead towards key goals, creating an action plan with feedback loops and accountability, then implementing the plan. Typically, executive coaching partnerships encompass durations of six months or one year, although three month “jumpstart” engagements and longer partnerships are also fairly common.

The importance of understanding a leader’s reality shouldn’t be minimized. What leader hasn’t had a 360 that generates vague and conflicting feedback? At it’s most bleak, feedback can feel like standing in a fun house hall of mirrors, with each reflection distorted uniquely by the perceptions of different raters. A coach helps her client synthesize the voices of feedback into meaningful insights.

A coach also challenges her client to surface multiple choices—from simple to innovative—that allow for optimal movement towards desired results. At varying times, the coach helps her client tap into courage, serves as a sounding board for ideas, facilitates practice of new leadership styles in a safe environment, and enables the client to gain traction in his or her personal and professional lives.

Executive coaching enables a leader to achieve targeted results through personal, focused attention, support, and accountability.

Private Coaching Intensive

Intensives allow a client to explore a single topic or issue in a short, highly structured and focused event. Coaches sometimes call these compressed engagements “VIP Days.” The usual duration is five to eight hours, and because of the individualized attention, the cost tends to be moderate to high. The coach provides a framework and key exercises to clarify insight and craft a plan to be implemented after the event. When the intensive is part of an ongoing coaching relationship, the coach provides continued accountability and support as described in one-on-one engagements. Otherwise, the participant navigates implementing their plan as part of a solo journey.

Group Coaching

Group coaching provides an opportunity to tap the expertise and accountability support of an executive coach, and reduces the overall cost by sharing the coach’s time within a group of like-minded professionals. Groups form around a central theme; for example, achieving a specific goal in 100 days or navigating a key transition. Group coaching may be open (any leader can join) or may require an application. Typical group coaching involves a duration ranging from six weeks to six months.

Participants in group coaching come together for shared learning, led by the coach, and then apply the learning to their own unique objectives. Depending on the structure, participants may get individualized attention with the coach between group sessions, or work through progress and next steps within the group setting. While most group coaching unfolds over a proscribed time, similar to one-on-one experiences, some coaches also offer “group intensives.” Intensive participants generally convene for a period of a half-day to three-day event.


Masterminds are unique in the coaching space. Participants apply to join, and are screened for the contribution they bring to the group, as well as their fit to the overall purpose. In general, a mastermind meets monthly or quarterly. The coach serves as facilitator, and participants make a commitment to co-leadership with their cohort. Meetings include both themed learning and one or more “hot seat” sessions, where an individual shares specific professional or business needs. The group collaborates in generating alternatives, and participants make commitments, such as introducing a key contact or providing informational resources. It is this component of collective commitment to each other’s development and support of goals that distinguishes a mastermind from other group coaching. Masterminds involve higher investment, both financially and in commitment. Additionally, participants often must agree to some form of non-disclosure before entry.

With today’s technology, the method for connecting in any coaching process might involve phone calls, video chat, virtual meetings, or face to face sessions. Especially when the coaching relationship involves connecting globally or across time zones, employing telephone calls or options such as Skype or FaceTime are common practice. Even so, with senior executives and C-suite leadership, initial sessions and data collection are often face to face.

What are you doing to invest in your personal or professional growth? Your thoughts and comments are welcome. Use the LEADistics Facebook page or your favorite social media to share this post or communicate your experiences and ideas.

To explore partnering with a executive coach in elevating your leadership and impact, click here to access the Discovery session calendar.

Thank you for visiting Dr. Kathryn Bingham’s blog! We invite your discussion at LEADistics’ community page. Fans and honest critics are welcomed! Please see our Comments Policy and reuse Permissions on the FAQ page. All posts are covered by copyright law, with all rights reserved.

Social Share

Recent Posts

  • LeadUP! Conversation logo, Book cover The Power of Latino Leadership by Juana Bordas, @DrKathrynBingham (Instagram handle)

LeadUP! Juana Bordas

April 28, 2023|Comments Off on LeadUP! Juana Bordas

This LeadUP! Conversation features Dr. Juana Bordas, president of Mestiza Leadership International and author of newly updated The Power of Latino Leadership (listen or watch here). Bordas shares how her immigrant experience shaped her leadership. [...]

  • Silhouette outline of a head in profile on a dark background, with lightning striking from the region of the brain

Power of the Pivot

April 17, 2023|Comments Off on Power of the Pivot

The idea seems simple. When something isn’t working, just change. Shift. Adapt. But our brain sabotages the effort. We’re convinced that if we just do better or try harder with our current path or process, [...]

  • LeadUP! Conversations podcast logo; Image of author Andrea DeWitt's book Name, Claim & Reframe; Logos for Dr. Kathryn Bingham and LEADistics LLC; and image of Dr. Bingham's book, Driving Pink

LeadUP! Andrea DeWitt

March 7, 2023|Comments Off on LeadUP! Andrea DeWitt

In this LeadUP! episode, Dr. Kathryn Bingham and author Andrea DeWitt talk about her new book, Name, Claim & Reframe and how individuals can step into their power, their potential, and their truth. Both the [...]