Five Tips for Presenting Your Plan with Confidence

A critical component of developing leadership skill and capability is the creation of a Personal Development Plan. Every leadership program or executive coaching engagement should involve the creation of a Plan, and without such a Plan, development efforts tend to remain academic exercises, and the insights are not converted into impact and business results.

Personal Development Plans should be simple: two or three specific areas of focus, whether those be addressing a skill or competency gap; better leveraging a strength; or changing an unproductive behavior or tendency. These areas of focus should be specific and tangible, and the Plan must be explicit about when and how the actions will be taken, and how progress will be tracked and measured. Plans that contain dozens of items don’t get executed, and Plans that stay at the level of “mom and apple pie” have no value.

To our minds, one of the most important steps in putting any Personal Development Plan in play is an open dialogue with the boss. If I sit down with my boss to share my Plan, I engage her in my development; I demonstrate that I am serious about raising my game; and in many cases I give her a better framework around which to coach and develop me for success in my current role while helping groom me for my next role. Most bosses would be much better coaches and advocates if we made more effort to help them help us. Don't you feel the same way about your coaching relationship with the people who report to you?

Heading into the 4th quarter is an ideal time for these kinds of conversations, to review the last year’s developmental progress and set the stage for the next. In order to make the conversation productive, here are five tips on how you can best engage your boss in a meaningful dialogue about your own development.

Before you present your Plan, make sure you are prepared.  Prepare in the same way that you would for an important interview: consider the impact you want to have, imagine what your boss’s areas of interest will be, anticipate questions, and be thoughtful about what you say about your strengths and development areas.  If you are well prepared you will be more confident and more able to remain fully present during the conversation.

What you say in the first five minutes will set the tone for the whole conversation.  One of the best introductions we’ve heard was from a middle level manager in a Fortune 500 company.  John said, “I want to start by telling you that I’m really happy to be here today.  I am genuinely passionate about my future with this company and the impact I can have, and I appreciate being able to share my career aspirations and development priorities with you.”   That introduction got his boss quite focused on what he had to say next.

Although “executive development” often focuses on areas for improvement, make sure you talk about what you are already good at.  Our strengths are the true engines of our success, and we shouldn’t minimize them. One female executive in a start-up noted, “Although I have a number of leadership strengths, such as my ability to develop business strategy and to create a high performing team, I also recognize that there are some areas I need to continue to refine in order to prepare for a more senior role.”  She confidently used the opportunity to remind her boss of her strengths before delving into her development areas.

When the time comes to talk about your development goals, you should always seek to link your Plan directly to the company strategy and business outcomes.  For example, Tom heads up Corporate Development for a company going through a merger.  When presenting his Plan to his boss he framed it as, “Given the amount of change in the business right now, my department needs to become more visible across different functional groups, and we need to build our brand and relationships with senior leaders.  To lead my team to do these things effectively, I need to personally build my relationship and influencing skills.” Compare this to Mike in finance who said, “Morale is pretty bad on my team, so I need to get better at managing people.”

Last but not least, be thoughtful about HOW you want to present your Plan.  Are you going to read through a document together with your boss, or use a more narrative style?  There’s no right way—and you should take into account your style (so you can be natural) as well as any cultural norms. Decide on an approach that works, and stick to it; if you switch styles, you may be hard to follow. Above all, seek to make the meeting about your Plan a CONVERSATION: one of your objectives is to engage your boss as a partner in your development, and ensure that she agrees with your proposed next steps so she can support you and provide resources as necessary.

Good luck with these meetings with your boss to discuss your Development Plan: they are some of the most important meetings you’ll have as an executive!

Do you have any other tips for sharing or presenting your development plan with your boss? We’d love to hear your ideas: send us a note at

"The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there." -- John Buchan