A Leadership Development Formula that Works!
This is for anyone who manages people. Whether a VP, manager of managers, or a frontline supervisor, I want you to achieve the extraordinary.
I was just okay at practicing leadership
For sixteen years, I worked in corporate America. I started as an individual contributor developing training for auditors. As my career progressed, I managed project teams and soon founded and led a new training department. At company number four, I managed managers as well as a small documentation team. Throughout those years, I did okay, but I wouldn’t consider myself great at leading.
It wasn’t until I started studying leadership before I improved my leadership practices substantially.
I want to save you some time by offering a path for developing leadership practices. If you want to manage high-performing teams and work in a healthy culture, you need to be deliberate in how you lead.
Don’t do what I did: Learn-as-you-go ultimately hurts team productivity and growth
For most of my corporate career, I had little interest in learning leadership. I thought leading was something you figured out through experience, but I was wrong.
While I was pretty good at managing teams, I had my low points. During one staff meeting, one of my reports proclaimed, “You’re a bad manager!” Although that hurt, I took that as a wake-up call.
At another organization, I fired an employee because of her poor performance. Just before getting in her car, she expressed that she felt like she let me down. From my viewpoint, I let her down and didn’t do enough to set her up for success.
While those were low points, I did some good as well. At another company, a VP hired me to fire two “troublesome” employees. I discovered quickly that the employees weren’t the problem: the system was, and I convinced the VP that they could become strong contributors when given the opportunity with productive work. Both employees continue to work for the same company. One has had two promotions, and the other is highly regarded as an exemplar employee.
Here’s the point: For most of those years, I ignored leadership. If I was less focused on building my technical skills and more focused on developing my leadership qualities and capabilities, I could have served my teams better. My trial-and-error, learn-as-you-go approach to leadership hurt team productivity and happiness because I was only a pretty good manager rather than an extraordinary one.
Three steps to developing how you lead
If you want to lead more effectively, I have a roadmap that can help!
Step one: learn leadership practices
You can learn a great deal by watching leadership videos, listening to podcasts, or reading blogs and books. Learning leadership informs you what you should do differently, what you should keep doing but maybe improve with some fine-tuning, and what you must stop doing immediately.
Learning is your baseline: You cannot improve without knowing what you need to change.
When I was a corporate employee, I wish I had learned about biases, in-groups and out-groups, growth and fixed mindsets, psychological safety, and techniques for serving those who work with you. Except for biases, I wasn’t aware of these concepts until the last five years. So, learn what these are and become better at leading than I was!
Think of this knowledge as building your leadership foundation, which is what James Hunter calls it.
Unfortunately, learning leadership is insufficient.
Step two: Do
Learning about leadership by watching videos, reading books, and listening to lectures builds your foundation, but you need to be deliberate in how you apply what you learn. Too often, we’ll read about something, believe we understand what it means, and fail to apply what we learn.
Near the end of my corporate career, I had moderate success by attending leadership training and reading books. I figured some ways to improve, which reflected in how my teams performed. I could have done better if I had a better understanding of the learning applications.
Learning and applying leadership gets you only so far in reaching your potential. You need something else.
Step three: assess
Without feedback from others, you won’t accurately know how well you are developing your leadership capabilities.
As my professional coach told me, trying to self-assess is like trying to describe a box from the inside. When someone on the outside describes the box, you start to form a clearer image.
Self-assessment does help, but we have our biases and blindspots skewing our self-perception.
Here’s a modified example of what I mean. I learned this from Joseph Grenny in a book called Influencer.
Imagine two novice tennis players: Sue and Monique. They have the same skills, make the same novice mistakes, and are evenly matched. Together, they watched some training videos, read the same tennis magazines, but have had limited experience on the court.
For a full day and in different facilities, both play tennis against a more proficient opponent. Sue plays several games and takes frequent breaks to recover from each match. Monique does the same but with one exception: Monique has a coach who provides feedback. At the end of the day, Monique has become a more proficient tennis player.
Like Monique, feedback about how well you lead can accelerate your leadership capabilities.
Learning about leadership isn’t enough. Trying to apply what you learn isn’t sufficient. You need to assess how well you’re applying what you know to amplify your leadership capabilities and behaviors.
Learning about leadership doesn’t necessarily mean that you grasp fully how and when to apply what you learn. Whether from a coach or from 360-degree feedback tools, you need to assess how well you are doing.
About the author
Gary is a Leadership Author, Researcher, Consultant, and Podcast Guest. His latest book, What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?, is available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook. You can learn more about Gary and his other books at https://www.garyadepaul.com.