In my last post in this series, I wrote about Professional Development as an intentional focus on learning skills to be successful in business. Leadership Development, on the other hand, focuses on learning how to enlist, inspire, influence, guide and direct teams or individuals toward some predetermined result or outcome. This is not to be confused with Management, which is more focused on process and policy.
Whether we are leading our teams, families, communities or ourselves, we can practice, practice, practice the skills of leadership. We can enlist people in our ideas. We can influence decisions and outcomes. We can inspire and motivate others to become their best selves. We in fact have an impact on performance, merely thru what we choose, say and do. One CEO refers to the “leader in everyone”, and in fact the leader expectations in his company are built around this idea.
The good news is Leadership skills can be developed. Using the 70-20-10 model of development, only about 10% (or less) of leadership is learned through traditional modes: classroom, books, even videos or CBT’s. These traditional modes of learning serve as the seed of learning, whereas the 20% represents learning through others, such as networking, mentoring, coaching, offering good and bad examples of behavior. Ultimately, 70% of learning takes place on the job, in the role with real people on real teams with real consequences. This requires constant experimentation and feedback, followed by adjustment. It truly is the trial and error method of learning. The downside of this is that potential consequences of mistakes are also very real, especially to those on the receiving end of the impact. Leaders who are learning on the fly must also be incredibly humble, receptive to feedback, and sensitive to how their behaviors are experienced by others. At the bottom line is the leadership style building and creating trust or eroding and damaging it?
The reality is high performing individual contributors are often promoted to supervisory and management positions, long before they have developed a sense of their own leadership style, philosophy or approach. By contrast, professional athletes learn and perfect their skills and techniques on the practice field, years, even decades, before making it to “the big show”. It takes practice, practice, practice, with professional coaches, feedback from teammates, constant self-evaluation, experimentation and adjustment to perfect their skills. Can you imagine if professional athletes had to learn and hone their skills in the job in a real, high stakes competition when the scores count?
For this reason, we all must develop leadership capability long before we have a supervisory position. Our choices, attitudes and behaviors reflect who we really are and how we will lead others in the future. Some of the most influential leaders in my life were not the people in positional power, but rather the people around me who cared enough to provide honest and candid feedback about my performance, my attitude, perceptions of others about me and challenged my thinking when I needed it.
Whether we are leading our teams, families, communities or ourselves, we can practice, practice, practice the skills of leadership. We can enlist people in our ideas. We can influence decisions and outcomes. We can inspire and motivate others to become their best selves. We in fact have an impact on performance, merely thru what we choose, say and do. Further, we can invite and receive feedback graciously, by receiving it as an opportunity for becoming even more effective.
Regardless whether you are a new graduate just beginning your career, a mid-career professional transitioning to management or a seasoned executive, there is always improvement to be made in terms of how teams and organizations perceive and follow you. You can always be more effective, more impactful, more compassionate, more dynamic, more ….. (you fill in the blank). Feedback is the gift that helps you to identify what additional practice is necessary.
- For those just entering the workforce, practice patience. Practice listening. Practice adapting your style to the needs of others. Practice inquiry. Practice giving clear, objective and caring feedback that helps others. All of these will serve you well.
- For all leaders at every level, be mindful of what your people need to remain motivated, inspired, engaged. Learn how to adapt your style to the needs of your team members in each situation. Be intentional about connecting your team’s contributions to the broader strategy. Reward good performance. Recognize and celebrate accomplishments. Say thank you. Keep learning.
- For executives, stay humble and remember what got you here will not get you to the next level. Whether by design or by default, you will have an impact. You will leave a legacy with those who follow. How do you want to be remembered? Take the opportunity to be intentional about how others experience you.